How We Misunderstood Minimalism (and 3 Misconceptions to Correct)

How We Misunderstood Minimalism (and 3 Misconceptions to Correct) from UIGarage
Nikka Estefani

Updated on February 25, 2020

Minimalism is not new. We’ve all seen minimalism almost everywhere, not just in design. They could be found in self-help books. We have heard motivational speakers preach about it. Business leaders praise the virtues of minimalism. Lastly, but definitely not the least, lifestyle gurus suggest we adopt minimalism in our lives.

Because minimalism had grown such a culture of its own into our society and lives, new phrases about it began popping up. Perhaps the most widely shared phrase about minimalism is, “Less is more.” But do we really understand the meaning behind that phrase (and those of other phrases connected to minimalism)? Do we even understand what minimalism is?

How We Misunderstood Minimalism (in UX/UI design)

Okay, let us not get any further. Let’s just talk about minimalism in UX/UI design. Just as the case of minimalism mostly elsewhere, many designers tend to have misconceptions about minimalism – and hence, ineffectively applying it in their design.

One of the main misconceptions we have about minimalism is that minimalism is all about getting plain, simple – and the “minimalist’s” favorite color: white!

So we use white as our design’s background, don’t put too much on it afterward, allow our design to be boring – to the point that it seemed it didn’t get past the 1990s.

Maybe, that is an exaggeration, but I hope the point is clear. Minimalism is not just about removing stuff and being as plain as possible. It is not about not using “fancy stuff” because “they’re not minimal”. This is the reason why some websites are considered minimal even if they have some fancy on them.

Minimalism is not totally about reducing things to its simplest form as possible – if you really want to go there, you may end up having a design that resonates a website during the time when the Internet was just starting around… you know what I’m talking about.

Minimalism is deeper than those misconceptions. So, let’s learn how to actually use minimalism in design.

How to Apply Minimalism in Your Design

There is practically no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to using minimalism in your design. The whole point of using minimalism is not on how to apply it, but its principles which you seek to apply in your design. So, let’s talk about some of these principles.

Be so simple you can be used, not so simple you can’t be used

How We Misunderstood Minimalism (and 3 Misconceptions to Correct) from UIGarage

Some websites or apps are so simple, you don’t know how to use them at all. This is one classic example of how minimalism is misunderstood (and hence, misused).

You must give importance to usability. If your minimalist efforts cost your design usability, then your minimalism isn’t really good at all.

At the end of the day, people want to use your website or app with ease. They want to navigate your website without feeling like they’re a pirate captain looking for a hard-to-find gold. And your “About Us”, “Contact Us” or “Add to Cart” shouldn’t be as hard to find as that gold!

Read: Myth #34: Simple = minimal by UX Myths

Removing labels in icons is not necessarily minimal

How We Misunderstood Minimalism (and 3 Misconceptions to Correct) from UIGarage

It’s true that sometimes, labels in icons are not necessary. They just add to the details and don’t do much. An example is having the label “WiFi” for the WiFi icon. We all know what a WiFi icon is, so for the most part, we know its meaning and use.

However, removing labels of icons for the sake of being minimal is not, not only good, it may not even be minimalist at all.

There are times when icons are important for labels. Sure, we all know what a WiFi icon is. But what about a generic cursor icon? What does that mean? What is it for? If you don’t put in the label for that icon, your user will have to do the guesswork – sometimes, trial-and-error – before he/she can find out what that icon is. And guess what, this is a big annoyance to the part of your user!

And in all irony, instead of helping users out, you just add the work needed to figure your design out. Remember, give importance to usability!

So, if you’re wondering whether to add/remove labels in icons, just ask yourself: without the labels, can users figure out the meaning and use of my icon?

Keep in mind is all about the purpose. Sure, we all know the WiFi icon, but for what purpose did you use that icon? Maybe, if it’s simply turning our WiFi on/off, you don’t need to put a label on it – again, we know it’s WiFi!

But if your purpose is not clear with the icon, stick to using labels! Be creative in writing and placing labels that are not painful to the eyes. For instance, you can place labels when a user points his/her cursor to the icon – though this may take a little guesswork, too.

Don’t remove the buttons!

Some apps have the habit of removing their “Pay” button once the payment is not yet due on the date. They will just appear when the due date is there. These are typically the case for subscription-based apps – for instance, for a TV network or bank.

It is inconvenient for the user to look for the pay button. Even if it’s not on a due date yet, just keep the buttons there.

This applies to most any buttons. Don’t remove buttons (and other features) unless necessary. Your users may think that your app or website has a bug or has crashed.


If you want to apply minimalism, be sure you know and understand its principles before using it. Otherwise, your design would be ineffective or even counterproductive in the long run.