You don’t need minimalism for great design.
Apple has convinced us that great design is minimal. Less is more. That great design is all about smoothness, reduction and elegance. Take a look at the Red-dot Design Award winning Apple Magic Mouse, which is described as “an intelligent pet.”
I have been using this mouse for a few years and happy with it, but I also see that it is a limiting way to view design. The corsair scimitar presents a good contrast:
While the magic mouse presents just one surface as a button, this one has a whole keypad on the mouse, apart from other buttons, and a light. (Yes, this device is meant for gaming, but I first saw it being used by a friend who is a pro-Excel user.)
Which brings me to maximalism. Wikipedia defines it like this:
In the arts, maximalism, a reaction against minimalism, is an esthetic of excess and redundancy. The philosophy can be summarized as “more is more”, contrasting with the minimalist motto “less is more”
Many times I have heard people citing Craigslist as an example of ‘successful even though bad UX’. But that’s misleading. Craigslist does not have bad UX. It just does not have a minimal design, but the opposite. And for something to be used by a large number of people, the product needs to have a maximal, not minimal design.
Similarly, Amazon which caters to a very large audience, also has a maximalist design – just open any product page and be inundated with a plethora of options. Someone obsessed with minimalism might find it in bad taste, but users love it of course.
And this is just the western aesthetic preference. As we move East, we see maximalism in all its glory:
Not only do these pages have a cornucopia of static visible options , they are loaded with animation. You can visit the websites, and enjoy the visual assault (if you have a strong preference for clean, minimal interfaces).
And coming back to Apple, which we like to think owes its success to minimal design. But that’s not the whole story:
Apple combined minimalism in hardware with maximalism in applications. The App Store made the iPhone a roaring success. Apparently, Steve Jobs, who of course loved minimalism, was opposed to the idea of 3rd party apps. According to this article:
When the first-generation iPhone arrived in 2007, it came with apps, but all of them were made by Apple. It had Mail, Safari, iTunes, Photos, Messages, Visual Voicemail, weather, camera, the calendar, the clock, and a few others that were Apple’s own, without any non-Apple apps, or user choice for alternative versions.
But of course, good sense prevailed and the App Store had a million apps in 2013. Sidenote, the iPod was also a great combination of minimal hardware with maximal options (“1000 songs in your pocket”).
Don’t get me wrong, minimalism is great. I love simple, neat devices and intuitive interfaces. But I also feel that some (Apple loving) designers have given too much weight to it – while sacrificing usability. Just head over to design communities like dribbble to see UX designs – most embrace minimalism – because you can afford to be minimal when you know nothing about the user. (And some companies who hire these designers also believe that the designer’s job is to make their product ‘look more clean and elegant’ – like the other cool sites out there.)
Maximalism does not need to look ugly or hurt your eyes. You can have web products which have a wealth of options and still look clean, elegant, and beautiful – while providing the user all the information he or she needs. The Dutch e-commerce player bol.com is a good example.
Finally, I think embracing minimalism or not – is not the right question. The harder question remains – how can we build an experience which is both beautiful and functional for our users?