30 Jun 2009 8 am eastern

The new old minimalists

The earliest websites were minimal in the extreme, but without the style and flair to make a virtue of their simplicity. 37signals and Kottke pioneered the combination of simplicity with deft design sense. Cardigan made it art.

Although it is never popular, never the dominant trend, rarely wins design awards, and almost never earns acclaim from designers, design stripped down to its essentials is always a good idea, and especially on the web, where every byte counts. We salute the old and new practitioners of minimalist web design, and solicit your thoughts on pioneers or present practitioners who combine a minimalist aesthetic with significant design chops.

[tags]design, webdesign, minimalism, history, web design history[/tags]

Filed under: Design, links, style, Web Design, Web Design History, Websites

76 Responses to “The new old minimalists”

  1. Andrew Brown said on

    I really loved when 37signals used to send out plain text email newsletters. I would read them in full. Now with their new graphically enhanced newsletters I delete them before opening.

  2. Matt Kempster said on
  3. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    No one has any other examples to share? Historic sites that paved the way? New sites that combine minimalism with grid and typographic awareness?

  4. Tuomas Tolppi said on

    Well this is not new to anyone, but: http://www.markboulton.co.uk/

  5. Josh Stodola said on

    I can’t dig up any classic sites, but I do have a kick ass LAUNCH magazine CD-ROM that rocked my world in 1999 (the amount of flashy design was amazing at the time, but not yet practical for a web page).

  6. Oliver Lorton said on

    As well as the Neutica theme, I love the subtraction.com website you listed, especially with the B&W images. For some reason minimalism seems to have fallen out of use a bit recently. I do hope it’s on it’s way back.
    Also thanks for the Hat tip.

  7. dave rau said on

    The first 37signals site was so influential in my web design upbringing. The tone of the text, the elegance of simplicity in their writing mirrors the design. It’s beautiful, simple and effective. I read every page on the site dozens of times over.

    Great post JZ!

    Another minimal endeavor I loved; the 5k contest!

  8. Joao Silva said on

    good list and i would suggest my website as a long shot.
    I have tried to give it a minimal look what do you all think.

    http://codedefinition.com

    the minimal style will kick all of this web 2.0 glossy style that become a trend.
    Me being a new in the business was taught web design and photoshop and all we learn was to design web 2.0 looking websites because was the hottest thing in the market.
    My philosophy as a designer without much experience is: get your own ideas on the table and go for it.

    nice blog master zeldman.

  9. Brade said on

    I’ve loved the heck out of HUGE’s website for a while: http://www.hugeinc.com/
    A bold image and lots o’ white space FTW.

  10. Joe Kohlmann said on

    I’m a fan of The Barbarian Group, which a few of us might know from the Magnetosphere iTunes visualizer. Very subtle, pleasingly spacious layout.

  11. The new old minimalists – Jeffrey Zeldman Presents The Daily Report said on

    [...] 30 Jun 2009 8 am eastern [...]

  12. Jin said on

    A flash site, but a classic one: http://yugop.net/

  13. Dan Mall said on

    I’ve always loved Praystation, as well as versions two and three.

  14. Tom Dolan said on

    We redesigned and rebuilt Polychrome.com last year to try to tackle a few points: Can a pure HTML/CSS site look great enough for a design company? Can a design firms site actually look good on an iPhone (means no Flash)? Can we take advantage of special Safari rendering tricks to make the type look even better than in FF? All in all, was well worth it.

  15. Richard Fink said on

    Sorry for going OT, but this blog has been keeping an eye on the progress of web-fonts for some time.
    It looks like the first web fonts service ready for prime time has appeared.
    Check it out:
    A Web Font Service For Real, A Sneak Peak At Kernest
    Sorry for the interruption.

  16. Garann said on

    memepool was pretty minimal, but maybe that was just a product of the times: link

    On the other hand, here it is in 2008, exactly the same: link

  17. The new old minimalists | Squico said on

    [...] In: Design inspiration 30 Jun 2009 Is minimalism in web design back, or did it just never go away? Go to Source [...]

  18. Paul said on

    my answer to to fire was middling. As Lawrence of Arabia once spewed, ‘ it does not matter if it hurts, it matters if you mind the hurt.” Anyhows…,

  19. Paul said on

    still searching for those yellow stickers i used to hand out to interns at jazzradio in the early day; stemmed from the Czech, but had links to hell.com and a bunch of others in those early hurly burly days. will report back. over.

  20. Khaled said on

    How have you not included Daring Fireball on that list of yours!!!

  21. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    Good one. Daring Fireball. Always considered that an elegant and complete look and feel.

  22. Richard Fink said on

    Joe Clark’s blog at http://fawny.org is very deliberately minimalist.
    Deceptively simple. The column width could not be more optimal for online reading. The font stack leaves me, as primarily a Windows user, with Cambria as the body font which also helps. The articles are centered, as well – no shifting around required.
    Joe has said that he’s systematically tried to remove anything that would be perceived as “design”.
    A good model, by my lights.

  23. Tim Shortt said on

    UnderConsideration: then and now.

  24. Minimalist Websites | The Pixel Experience said on

    [...] spyrestudios.com, line25.com, sixrevisions.com, touchey.com, zeldman.com. Date: 30th June 2009 Categories: Web Design Comments: No Responses Trackback: trackback [...]

  25. eraevion said on

    Despite huge amount of content, New York Times is pretty minimal among others newspapers. Love their website.

  26. Carole Guevin said on

    Think Netdiver Mag has through the yrs aimed at simplicity and the recent uphauling was centered around black & white minimalist grid and typographic styling, especially the for site overall title.

    Netdiver (ISSN 1911-866X)

  27. Kev Adamson said on

    Some more sites of similar ilk:

    http://ilovetypography.com/
    http://www.area17.com/
    http://typesites.com/
    http://www.markboultondesign.com/
    http://www.rikcatindustries.com/
    http://aworkinglibrary.com/

    Sites you’ve quoted: Good examples although I feel kottke and drudge lack visual hierarchy IMO.

  28. Trace Meek said on

    Certainly not ground shaking, but paved a little bit of the way, in its own way: http://www.morecrayons.com/

  29. Trent Walton said on

    pretty simple… http://trentwalton.com

  30. Jeremy said on

    Gabo Mendoza’s first version of http://www.GaboCorp.com was brilliant. His new site is very simple as well: http://pixelbreath.gabocorp.com/

  31. Deanna said on

    Some nice examples; Drudge Report not being one! :)

    I like Design Observer and Pentagram.

  32. Jonas Downey said on

    One of my friends from school created the Poccuo design web site http://poccuo.com – always liked the minimal and elegant layout.

  33. Jeremy Mandle said on

    Jon Tan’s site is such a freaking masterpiece of typographically driven minimalist design that it makes my eyes bleed. And I like it.

    http://jontangerine.com/

    The About page is dropdead gorgeous and very easy to read. The Asides page redefines the concept of a presenting your Lifestream.

  34. akagitano said on

    I think great the minimal design of powazek.com and his theme only for wordpress.com DePo Masthead .

  35. Jeremy Mandle said on

    Oops. Typo’d the “About” URL.

    The About page is dropdead gorgeous and very easy to read.

  36. Daniel H said on
  37. Gerald said on

    I’m liking the recent redesign of A Working Library. Form, function and content all complimenting each other quite nicely.

  38. Stephen said on

    MEDIUM has a beautiful and minimal website
    http://thisismedium.com

  39. Daniel Carvalho said on

    I’m going to be cheeky and post my own website. I’m always up for critique.

    Video games, gamer culture and design, by Daniel Carvalho.

  40. Zeldman on Minimalism | Jeff Siarto said on

    [...] Zeld­man on minimalism Although it is never pop­u­lar, never the dom­i­nant trend, rarely wins design awards, and almost never earns acclaim from design­ers, design stripped down to its essen­tials is always a good idea, and espe­cially on the web, where every byte counts. [...]

  41. Jordan Dobson said on

    I work for Squad and feel we have two websites that fit this perfectly.

    MadeBySquad.com
    GlueNow.com

    Also SquadBlog.com too but that is still being rebuilt.

    – J

  42. Tim Murtaugh said on

    Tooting our own horn here, but Mike Pick’s design for seedmagazine.com is both amazing and amazingly minimal.

  43. mnik said on

    Minimal in a maximal kind of way:
    http://www.sparkcapital.com

  44. Carole Guevin said on

    Trent Walton website is a pearl!

  45. Carole Guevin said on

    Nice minimalist:

    Joshua Distler (flash) – http://www.joshuadistler.com/

    UOLTS – http://www.uolts.net/

    160over90 – http://www.160over90.com/

    Ik Ben Lowman – http://www.hellowman.nl/

    Serial Cut – http://www.serialcut.com/

    Mario Hugo – http://www.mariohugo.com/

  46. swan said on

    http://www.ted.com/ – minimalistic layout + clean, usable interface = heaven.

  47. Ray said on

    Thank you Gerald.

    I was looking for A Working Library when I first read this post, but lost it in my browser history. On that site, I particularly like this page: Beginnings.

    The drop cap and the overall design really kick it.

  48. Florian Kissling said on

    Instantly thought of Information Architects (whose 100% Easy-2-Read Standard also influenced Wilson Miners latest redesign) and
    Pen & Think – in 2007-2008, with redesigned blog in 2006 and even earlier.

  49. Travis Fleck said on
  50. Lee Phillips said on

    Thanks for the great examples, especially from the comments. I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned the ultimate minimalist site: google.com

    Some of the examples are not only minimalist, but marginally competent: I was puzzled by the lonely GO button on Subtraction.com until I realized that it went with the Google search box.

  51. Lee Phillips (07/09): Thanks for the great exam... — BackType said on

    [...] The new old minimalists on Jeffrey Zeldman Presents from 41 minutes ago [...]

  52. tombh said on

    Yeah, +1 for google.com, those anchors are true blue old skool.

  53. Lee Phillips said on

    How about

    ftrain.com

  54. Rod Galindez said on

    I’d say, The Old Fashioned.

  55. Birgit said on

    Certainly not one that paved the way, but an iconic one that has probably been looking the same since the very birth:

    http://www.berkshirehathaway.com/

  56. Patrick J. Anderson said on

    It’s a web application, but I like the design of http://www.feedly.com/

  57. Matthew Kempster said on

    Shocked by how many people are claiming Flash sites to be ‘minimalistic’

    Maybe I’m just a flash hater though

  58. David said on

    Yes I’m aware it comes across as a shameless plug, but in redesigning my own site my goal was to hew to a minimalist approach in terms of color, typography, and layout. Quite a bit of inspiration came from a few of the sites already noted above.

    A not totally unrelated aside: anybody else find themselves unable to resist looking at the code behind those early minimalist sites Mr. Zeldman listed? Not so minimal. What a difference a decade of web standards promotion makes! (thanks!)

    http://www.webmodia.com

  59. Laszlo said on

    This person was pretty reductive: http://www.miniml.com/v1/flash/index.htm

  60. Shane said on

    LOVE the new design, LOVE the orange! I’ve been trying to embrace the minimalist movement for quite some time, I’m just not sure of how well of a job I am doing…

  61. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    Found this:

    50 Inspiring Examples of Minimalism in Web Design

    Some nice work there.

    I need to write more SEO-friendly blog post titles. :(

  62. David Orlowski said on

    Cardigan Industries is awesome! Just looking at that page and scanning the text makes me wish it was still around.

  63. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    Cardigan Industries is awesome! Just looking at that page and scanning the text makes me wish it was still around.

    It was a great loss to writing and design on the web when Dean Allen decided to stop blogging, move to France, and romp with dogs. (While in semi-retirement, he gave us a publishing platform, and has since relaunched Textism and created FAVRD.)

  64. Marko said on

    There is also article from summer of 2007 about minimalist web design:
    http://rainfall-daffinson.com/minimalism/

  65. Joe Clark said on

    I believe what I have successively removed from my blog default CSS is anything extraneous. I think I have been too successful in some respects, as with permalinks and category names.

    Kooky fun fact? No version of IE renders my post titles in a cursive font despite elaborate CSS specifying same. Chris Wilson has suggested every other browser is wrong, which they aren’t.

  66. Drake said on

    I’ve liked watching Astheria over the last couple years. It was one of the first blogs I saw a non ‘web safe’ font on (I think it was Palatino). Though he’s changed the design now, it’s still nice.

    I’ve also loved iA.jp, not only for the minimalist design, but for their preaching of such an aesthetic with their articles.

  67. Gordon Brander said on

    I’m surprised no one has yet mentioned Muxtape. In my mind its designer, Justin Ouellete has done a great job of contextualizing the “truth to materials” philosophy to the web.

  68. nick said on

    I always loved the micro-animations of the original Pixel:Industries.
    Sadly not much in the Wayback, and nothing from 1995-1998, but a few working samples are:
    http://web.archive.org/web/20020103200118/corp.pixel-industries.com/index2.html
    http://web.archive.org/web/20010428030928/www.pixel-industries.com/index2.html
    http://web.archive.org/web/20011222100648/store.pixel-industries.com/intro/images/bt_launch_of.gif
    http://web.archive.org/web/20010906072006/pixel-industries.com/entrance/preload_02/images/bt1_login_of.gif

    digital steampunk? The original was ornate minimalism.

    I wish they had a good archived copy available… :(

  69. Utopie - Web Site Design Liverpool said on

    I am a pureist minimalalist web designer. I think web designers should have no shame in having their own style instead of complying to a general fashion. One day, maybe when you are dead, you will be famous for your art style, just like all the famous artists…

  70. Charles Roper said on

    The minimalism tag on Delicious yields some superb results. A trio of compilations:

    http://www.minimalsites.com/
    http://minimalexhibit.com/
    http://www.webdesignerwall.com/trends/50-minimal-sites/

    My favourite minimal site at present is Information Architects, within which my favourite article is this gem.

    Going back in time, I thought Yahoo circa 1997-98 were trailblazers when it came to minimalism. Where did it all go wrong?

    Doug Bowman’s Minima Blogger template is also a classic.

    But all this reminds me, we really need a decent web museum with proper curation. The Wayback Machine is cool an’ all, but it doesn’t have the curatorial precision of a good museum.

  71. Charles Roper said on

    Oh, forgot one of my all time historical faves: Joe Clark’s NUBlog

  72. Ronald's Website - News Feeds said on

    [...] The new old minimalists The earliest websites were minimal in the extreme, but without the style and flair to make a virtue of their simplicity. 37signals and Kottke pioneered the combination of simplicity with deft design sense. Cardigan made it art. Although it is never popular, never the dominant trend, rarely wins design awards, and … [...]

  73. Jeffrey Zeldman Presents The Daily Report said on

    [...] 30 Jun 2009 8 am eastern [...]

  74. Rob Winters said on

    I used to love the5k.org (via web archive) back in the day. Now I’m liking YayEveryDay.com and ffffound.com does it for me.

    And most things from this guy, this guy and the other Jeff fella are pretty great too.

  75. men hat said on

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  76. No design is good design » underdog of perfection [ a blog on technology and geek culture from room34 ] said on

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