Internet as Frame part II, Minimalism

April 27th, 2006

The design of web-pages for displaying art is a matter of great practical as well as aesthetic importance. One design that I find striking, because of its boldness, is Jannie Regnerus’ web-page. This page (detail below) is minimal to the extreme. It is so unlike what one is used to in a web-page that at first it seems confusing. But it is precisely this unusual quality that makes the layout a successful frame for Regnerus’ photography. One has the feeling of having left the noisy bustle of the internet and having arrived in a quiet place.

[image: screen shot of minimalist website]

I say the design is bold is because, by departing from expectations, Regnerus takes a risk that visitors may be confused and leave the site before they see anything. For those visitors who do look more closely, the simplicity of the layout serves the intended role of providing a quiet context for the artwork.

Is minimalism inherently good for the internet?

Is Regnerus’ site a model for other internet sites?

. . .

11 Responses to “Internet as Frame part II, Minimalism”

  1. arthur Says:

    There are plusses and minuses to this kind of approach (which of course Regnerus didn’t invent). One good thing is that it makes it pretty easy to navigate the site. Another, more subjective, has to do with mood and style. As you write, it gives a feeling of serenity and quiet contemplation. The design also evokes (perhaps intentionally) the “white box” design of the contemporary art museum or gallery. On the negative side (probably), the design feels very generic. Again, this is like the gallery space. The site is hard to remember because it doesn’t have a distinctive visual identity (a brand, if you will). But I suppose that if you find it striking or different enough, it could work the other way. I don’t know that any particular design approach is inherantly good or bad for the internet or anywhere else.

  2. Karl Zipser Says:

    Arthur, you have hit on the key thing, that the site evokes a gallery space. In this sense it is “generic”. But I see that as a strength. It seems to me that the goal of an art site should be to show the art, not the site. I’ve played enough with site design to know how much opportunity there is to jazz up a site — background color, cute pictures, fancy fonts, etc etc. I find that it takes a good deal of self-discipline to get rid of all this decoration, and to simply put the main content in there. That is why I find the Regnerus site bold and inspirational. As far as original, I don’t know. I have not searched the whole web. From what I have seen, this site stands out. If there are others like it, it does not change the essential points. If every site were minimal in layout, then when we compared the sites, we would be comparing content alone, not site decoration. That does not seem such a bad thing really.

  3. ossi ostermann Says:

    The utter simplicity in the entrance of the website relates to the drama in the photos. It is a highly stylized art form that may or may not appeal.

  4. arthur Says:

    It seems to me that the goal of an art site should be to show the art, not the site.

    The goal of the site depends on the person running it. And while some, like you, may want the experience of their art (or whatever they’re showing) to stand by itself, others may have different goals. For example, a website could be an artwork in itself, or at least a memorable experience. (I would mention some other similarly designed sites if I could remember them!) Me I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with either approach.

    If every site were minimal in layout, then when we compared the sites, we would be comparing content alone, not site decoration.

    This seems like a strangely functionalist statement, given that paintings themselves almost always serve a decorative function (whatever else they might do). I have pictures hanging where I could have blank walls. I don’t think that they are irrelevant to the experience (or “content”) of my living space.

  5. Karl Zipser Says:

    Arthur, you make execellent points. It would also be fair to add that even if the goal IS to display the art, a mimialist frame might not be the best choice. And yes, why should a site not be an artwork in itself? Some people ask this about a “real” frame as well.

    I like the idea of “content” of a livingspace. I guess the people are the main content.

    So where are we then? I suppose the lesson is that if a site is there to display art, and perhaps be an artwork in itself, then the stuff aside the art should be treated as seriously (from a creative design point of view) as the explicit artwork. Minimalism is one approach to this, but not the only one.

    Fair enough?

  6. arthur Says:

    Sure, but I was hoping you would disagree with me a bit more.

  7. Karl Zipser Says:

    Sorry to disappoint, Arthur. Suffice it to say that your blog and my blog are both minimal in form. This is where we voted, and we voted the same way.

    I think that minimalism is inherently good for the internet for the simple reason that internet users will only devote a limited amount of time and attention to any given site. By choosing a minimal design, one is constrained to show the bare essentials. This increases the chances that visitors will see the things that the designer considers the most important to see.

    It is not easy to prioritize the content of a website, especially when it means that some items or design features might need to be removed for the sake of minimalism. Minimalism looks simple, but to achieve it is not always easy.

    A web site is not like a living room. This could be the topic of a separate essay.

    Is Regnerus’ site a model for other internet sites? I think the Regnerus site is more of an ideal to keep in mind, rather than a practical model. For a site that is regularly updated, like a blog, visitor want the latest information. The Regnerus site requires the returning visitor to enter the site and look for what is new. In this functional sense the site is not minimal in its demands on the user, despite its sparse layout.

    Paintings almost always serve a decorative function? Not a kind thing to say to an artist; maybe it’s true, but that won’t get us into the studio each day.

  8. Linda Says:

    I’m an artist as well as a webdesigner. First:
    The goal of the site depends on the person running it (Arthur). Absolutely! It’s also subjective how this goal can be served by the webdesign. Besides functional in the sense of directing the attention, a webdesign also generates a feeling, an atmosphere. It brings the visitor in a mood. This mood, in which the visitor perceives the artwork, can be as important as the image of the artwork itself.

    Art means to communicate, not in a verbal language, but in a direct language that surpasses the conscious brain. So, how the webdesign ‘should’ be, depends on what you want to communicate. Therefore, there can never be a rule on what style is the best. A good design is a design that does what it’s meant to do.

    As for the site of Regnerus, that has a simple look, but it is made in Flash. On a slow connection (a third of the Dutch households), the photographs take abnormally long to show, leading to the impression that there are no photos, and concluding that the site sucks. Good looks, bad design!

    You talk about jazzing up a site: that sounds like adding useless decorations. Do you jazz up a painting? Or do you add a certain color, a refinement, any element because that is what the painting needs? Internet is relatively young. It started out ‘minimalistic’ (purely for the sake of sharing flat information), then we tried out all the flashy gimmicks, and now we’re sort of trying to restore the balance between design and function.

  9. Karl Zipser Says:

    Linda, I’m sorry to offend the sensitivities of a web designer with the phrase “jazzing up a site”. I think anyone who has toyed with web design knows how easy it is to add lots of features, colors, pictures which at first seem impressive. The experts like you know that to remove the extraneous stuff is more difficult — not in a technical sense, but in the sense of making the right judgments about priorities.

  10. Atims Says:

    Props to you Linda.

    “A good design is a design that does what it’s meant to do.”

    I agree. And I didn’t find Regnerus’ site doing what it was meant to do. It’s simple, sure enough, but the images took a while to load, which made me think I was clicking in the wrong places. By the time the images loaded I wasn’t as interested in the content anymore.

    Here’s what I think is a minimalist yet striking artist site. The work of Jen Hsieh.

  11. linda Says:

    As far as I can see, there is no reason to make this design in Flash (besides the fact that you like working with the program). In simple html, you would see a photo building up as it loads. (from what I know of flash, it should be possible to give a message that a picture is loading. Even then, a picture this size should load much quicker than it does on this site) This is the information you need when surfing on a slow connection. I seriously thought the site was not working. I accidently saw the image at last, because the site continued loading while I was composing my comment.

    Now that I’m on it: The blank indexpage I find unnecessary too (as – almost – any page with nothing on it or just a time consuming intro). You might as well start with the bio-links. Those being in pdf, seems silly also: I just want to see them, not print them. But nevertheless, I liked the empty look of her site, and in style with the one photo I finally saw.

    The site of Reg. reminds me that you don’t need to fill everything up, less is more, and how bloody important it is that it is technically in order. I assume that people have a reason for doing things the way they’re doing them: in this case, I suspect lack of technical knowledge, which is something I can relate to.