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Minimalism as narcissism

We sometimes just want to look at and appreciate our websites. Sometimes we want to make them as minimal as possible. It’s all part of the same narcisstic urge, and it’s probably quite healthy to indulge it.

It would be easier to design a rather beautiful website if I didn’t feel this one had to provide a certain amount of functionality, such as comments (originally because indieweb, but now because some folk bothered responding to what I’ve written, which engenders an odd feeling of responsibility).

I get annoyed when other websites fail to provide basic, useful information in an easy to find place, such as a publication date adjacent to a blog post title. I also appreciate being able to reach a list of posts in one click, instead of having to hunt for the archive page link at the bottom of the page, or even having to guess its URL.

All these pieces of UI – while making for better “experiences” – create noise, making it harder to contemplate our reflection.

A young man staring at his reflection in a pool.

But I’m no less narcissistic than the next man – I spend half my time writing about this website, after all – and every now and again I’ll pare it back, so a blog post only consists of a title, the text and, if you’re lucky, a publication date underneath it all. Navigation will consist of a sole link to the home page, and even that might well skulk in the footer. And it will look good. And then I’ll fix it.

These are our own sites, and we don’t really owe anyone anything from them: no-one’s paying us a salary to write about webmentions, and it’d be nice to free ourselves from the shackles of usefulness, especially if use is what we spend our working day in thrall to.

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The modern web must have really lowered my expectations because a website’s design is sort of immaterial to me as long as it doesn’t have popups, cookie consent banners, needlessly paginated content, and fake chat boxes urging me to chat with customer service. Reader mode seems to work well enough that it’s generally available in the event that I come across a blog that’s difficult to read whether it be due to the font, the font size, or blindingly bright colors at 2 AM.

Sometimes sites are fun to look at even if they’re ill-suited towards reading the author’s content. I think that my only real major annoyance is sites not offering an RSS feed. My own page is a garbled mess because I was making it up as I went along. I have been tempted to revamp it from top to bottom many times but that would require an astronomical amount of work since I type out most of the HTML manually. I would hope that anyone coming across it would just use reader view, use a text-based browser, or disable CSS altogether, but I also don’t ever expect anyone to be reading it except for me.

Strangely, I kind of like busier site designs although that can lead to compromised functionality. I initially wanted to fill my site with tons of text and information but I quickly realized that I had no content and nothing to say. There’s something oddly pleasing about the information density and maximalism that’s commonplace on Japanese websites.


Well, you’ve got one reader :-)

I guess a lot of this depends on what you’re interested in when you build your site: rolling your own comments, handcrafting HTML etc. versus some vague notion of minimalism.

I think I’ve reached a state where this site is as minimal as possible while remaining readable and (hopefully) easy to use. In a sense, it’s a demonstration of what I think decent blog/web design is.

But I have had this notion of chickenshit minimalism on my mind for a while and your comment has also got me thinking: why not go the other way and, while I don’t think I’m quite capable of Japanese maximalism, design something really information dense? I’ve got around 600 posts, links and notes here, so there’s enough content. While keeping it scannable and readable…

It’ll take a bit of work, but I’ve got a couple of weeks leave coming up…