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  • Writer's picturerachel cho

Usability Heuristic: Aesthetic and Minimalist Design

As a user experience (“UX”) designer, there are certain behaviors or principles that are critical for achieving your goals on a particular project. UX designers, among others, call them heuristics. Generally speaking, a heuristic, according to Wikipedia, is any approach to problem-solving or self-discovery that use practical methods to reach an immediate goal.

In the UX context, we spend time focusing on usability heuristics. To start, usability heuristics are broad rules of thumb and not specific usability guidelines. They are design techniques that can help make your product, app, or website more user-friendly. By following these UX heuristics, you increase the chances that your product accomplishes its goals—whatever they are.

You may have heard of some of these usability heuristics and principles by reading books like Susan Weinschenk’s 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People. I want to spend this article, however, talking about one particular usability heuristic. It is called aesthetic and minimalist design. Aesthetic and minimalist design is an extremely powerful heuristic that you can use in any type of product. By understanding its core tenets and how to actually leverage this heuristic in your product, you can certainly come closer to achieving your design goals.

Aesthetic and Minimalist Design: How to Best Leverage This Heuristic

Before discussing specific tactics, it is important to first have a solid understanding of the core of this heuristic. Aesthetic and minimalist design is the eighth heuristic of Jakob Nielsen’s well-known 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design. Aesthetic and minimalist design is number eight on that list. When describing this heuristic, Nielsen said the following:

“Dialogues should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed. Every extra unit of information in a dialogue competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility.”

To put it another way, aesthetic and minimalist design focuses on, you guessed it, minimalism in the design of your product. Ultimately, minimalism removes a burden from your users because they immediately understand what is important. Instead of having to read through wordy copy or navigate through a morass of images, they can immediately see how your product provides value to them. Your users are especially thankful for this since the brain can only process limited information at a certain time. Aesthetic and minimalist design even centers on the colors that you select. The purpose and use of each color must be thought out, as a minimal design uses only the necessary colors to support the visual hierarchy.

With those basics in mind, you may be asking: “how can I leverage aesthetic and minimalist design in my products?” While the best way to leverage this heuristic is through practice, there are several things to keep in mind.

First, it is important to remember that your product should only show the most relevant things. This is quite simple to understand, but it is hard to execute in practice. You (or members of your team) may have plenty of features, copy, or images that they would like to include in your product. However, throwing the kitchen sink at your product will immediately violate this heuristic. Instead, you need to be patient and selective. Have a bias for removing things from your product than adding them.

Second, simplify the color scheme. Again, it may be tempting to include several different colors on a particular webpage or throughout your product. I urge you to be choosy. While you don’t need to simply use black, white, and move on, think about fewer, bolder colors. This can have a dramatic impact.

Finally, lest I forget, don’t be afraid to leverage whitespace. Whitespace is the secret sauce of aesthetic and minimalist design. There are many different guides to using whitespace, but one helpful tip is to increase negative space around elements that you wish to emphasize. Users will naturally be drawn to those elements.

Embracing Minimalism

In sum, aesthetic and minimalist design can be an extremely powerful heuristic in your UX toolkit. Whether you are a newer UX designer or have been designing for some time, I highly encourage you to use this usability heuristic in your projects. You will find that this heuristic will help you create better products that your users will absolutely love.

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