Realistic Minimalism

Mark has a post today about his blog redesign, which was inspired by a few other blogs that have recently embraced minimalism. If you hadn't noticed, I've had that sort of simplistic design for quite a few years now. I actually saw someone else's very clean design at one point, and liked it so much I did it to my own site, which is why I won't claim credit for it, but I do want to point out that it wasn't for a lack of thinking about it.

The design of this blog is meant to highlight the posts and make reading easy for the user that clicks through to consume the information presented, understand its context, as well as navigate around afterwards. That means the fonts are large, the type is colored darkly on white background, the headings are easy to discern, as are the links (your basic blue link color), the whole text is centered but with a maximum width, the top menu is clear and basic, and there's no sidebars, widgets, or any other distractions from the main content.

Now, Mark's blog was already pretty spare - so when he's talking about minimalism, he's actually taking it to extremes by getting rid of anything in the surrounding page template that's not absolutely required - including the feed icon, and the next page, previous page links.

I think that's going a bit too far. You have to think like a reader of your blog. They want to know where they are, and what they are supposed to read, and if they like the content, where to find more. A common use case is the person that arrives from a web search: They find the post, and immediately see that the page is part of a person's weblog, written on a specific date. If they want more information about the author, the "About Me" is big and obvious. If they want to see what else I've written, they can click on the Archives link, or the Search link for more info. I can see the click stream for this blog using Google Analytics that this is pretty much how most searchers use the site. Almost always the next click after the first page is to the About Me page, and then to the Search or Archives.

Another use case is for regular readers who subscribe to the blog. Say if I write something interesting that they want to read later, they'll open it up in a tab for later retrieval. When they finally get around to the article, it's presented very clearly for them to read, with an obvious comment area at the bottom (when I turn that on) - and if they haven't been keeping up lately, the reader might click the big, centered Previous or Next links at the bottom of each post as well. I don't know how many times I've opened a tab later and wondered what the hell I had saved it for because the site was so confusing, or gotten to the bottom of a post, and had to search for Previous/Next links.

Minimalism to me is about making everything as easy and clean for the reader as possible.

(Oh, and the other advantage to this is when I choose to add in advertising, it's *such* a huge and obvious break in the flow of the normally clean page, the user can't help to notice it and click through if they're interested - or by accident, either way is good).

So, back to Mark's new minimalistic design.. Getting rid of the feed icon is interesting... and actually something I might consider now that I think about how I use feeds lately - I almost always use the auto discovery stuff in the chrome of Firefox. That way I can check the feed first (to see if it's full, or snippets, and how well it's formatted) before adding it to my news reader. I rarely hunt a feed icon down any more - only if there's no autodiscovery, really - and I'd bet most people are the same. That said, having the feed icon there is sort of a *reminder* to people to subscribe if they want as well, so getting rid of it all together might be detrimental.

The other stuff like getting rid of the obvious headers, links to the context of my blog, or easy navigation options? That's just silly, and will end up with people emailing me with complaints or out of general confusion. My blog (and Mark's) is already clean enough compared to many of the sites out there, there's no reason to over do it. Einstein said, "Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler."

One thing that I really would like to do is add in more color... I've tried various ways of decorating the headers or lines/boxes but it always end up looking garish. I even tried the 37signals' blue fade background that Mark has on his site, but it just didn't work. Eventually I'll figure it out (or run across some other blog out there has and copy it). Until then, I'll just stick with shades of grey.

Just my thoughts.


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