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Making your site lean and minimal

Keep it simple.

Use fewer plugins, avoid cluttered layouts, minimize your menus and learn from the likes of Apple.

When you first start building a site you may be tempted to install every plugin possible and try and use up every piece of website real eastate you have. I don’t recommend doing that, so here are a few tips on being minimal.

1. Plugins slow down your site.

There are lots of very cool plugins out there, but before you install them remind yourself that each plugin will slow down your site just that little bit more, and in some cases a lot. That’s all bad for your Google rankings, so installing plugins is a compromise. You want to ask yourself, does this plugin actually add value to my site? Or is it just a cool gizmo that has no real effect on the experience that people using my site will have. Will it help journalists and bloggers share your projects? Will it increase the number of potential clients contacting you? Will it foster a community around your work? If no, then what does it actually achieve? As an example: everywhere on the web you’ll see recommendations to have sharing links at the bottom of each page so that people can tweet and Facebook and so forth. The problem is that I have no idea how many people actually use them. I have no data on how many people actually click on them. And I know that I never use them, so it’s quite possible those little buttons add nothing to a site. I could be wrong, but it’s that thought process that will help you decide if a plugin is worth having. Of course you need to experiment with plugins to see if they are useful, so by all means do this. Just make sure you are conscious that less is more.

2. Minimal layouts.

I find minimal websites are the easiest to use. I look, I see, and I know exactly what I’m meant to be reading or doing next. This is very different to the magazine or web-shop approach where they try to cram as many links and flashing images in front of you as possible. They do this because they have a wide audience and they are trying to provide as many connections to more content to keep the reader on their site. For websites with simpler audiences, however, I don’t think this makes sense. An architect only has a couple different groups to accommodate: clients, media, fans and maybe consultants. The path structure of this type of site can be absolutely simple and beautiful. So eliminate everything that doesn’t need to be there and only show what really counts. Only show what really adds value to the reader’s experience. My current role model is Apple. Have a good look at how they lay out information on a product page like the iphone. It looks so simple, but if you were to take that same information and add it to a more traditional web layout, not only would you need way more room, but it would be incredibly overcrowded. They are the masters of providing lots of content, but presenting it simply.

3. Simple menus.

The rule of thumb I use for menus is to never have more than 7 main menu items. Supposedly this is because humans can only remember 7 things at once, after which things get complicated. Once you go to sub menus you can apply the same logic. That gives you a total of 49 possible links with just 2 tiers. I have recently been experimenting with Uber Menu, which provides a beautiful alternative to the standard drop down menu. I’m still not convinced by this type of drop down page menu, it still seems like too many choices. But it is an interesting option.


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