Many years ago, Ben Hunt’s ‘Save the Pixel‘ profoundly changed my thoughts on web design and it still impacts how I design and develop websites today. I loved the title, suggesting that we must preserve pixels (the individual units making up our digital displays) in the same way that we need to ‘save’ other things. The concept resonated with my own minimalist philosophy. Hunt argues that we should only use as many pixels as necessary to satisfy the needs of the design. We can do something elaborate or textured but it must satisfy the communication requirements. Better to remove all extraneous elements and stay focused on the purpose of the site. A focused design helps your site visitors find what they need.
The exact same concept applies to the code working behind the scenes to deliver your website. The leaner and simpler the website code, the more likely it is to load quickly, with efficient maintenance and shortest recovery time. In other words, the leaner the website, the better it is at doing its job. The more moving parts it has, the slower all of the above will be. Of course, the site needs to have certain functionality which is where we need to add complexity. But we should only add the complexity we require and no more. Why add baggage we don’t need?
My general website goals in order of importance:
- functional (for best user experience). And functional doesn’t mean the site can’t be beautiful especially if the function of the site is to sell something beautiful
- fast (for best user experience and higher google ranking)
- efficient maintenance (for reduced upkeep time)
- fastest possible recovery when website breaks (for minimal downtime)
Every little bit of code, every image, has the potential to add overhead and slow down your website. A website that is bloated with lots of unused images and code will take longer to backup, may even fail during backup, and will also hold less backups. Similarly, every extra little bit needs to be maintained so increases the time required to keep your site running well.
Why does any of this matter to you? Keeping these ideas in mind helps when evaluating designs and development platforms. For example, you’re looking at a new design for your website. The first option has many ‘bells and whistles’ and pages are filled with much extraneous content. The second option steers visitors pretty quickly and clearly towards the site goal (for example the Contact page). It seems obvious from this example but we can easily get caught up in the minutiae of the design or other details that distract us from the main goal of the site.
Similarly, you may be looking to add some functionality to your website. The first plugin/service is packed with functionality but you only need one feature. The second plugin/service only does that one thing. The second plugin will serve you better by not adding bloat and not having more potential security holes.
After a website has been designed and developed, it still needs to be maintained. Focused/clean/minimal design makes for a more effective website and similarly focused/clean/minimal development yields the most easily maintained platform.