The Argument for Minimalism Through Grayscale

There is a good argument to be made for using grayscale to minimize distractions. In my time researching and designing this site I came across something known as search engine optimization, otherwise known as SEO. What I came to realize is that there had been much more going on with design than I had originally been aware of. So what does grayscale have to do with SEO? Simply put, it can break you away from a potentially manipulative call to action, otherwise known as a CTA.

A call to action is the intended behavior that is most optimal and wanted out of a visitor. For instance, if I were to introduce an email list my call to action would likely be to prompt users to sign up with a splashy and colorful popup. Some designers are able to use color psychology to direct you to specific areas of their products and in doing so remove a portion of agency on your part. These can be anywhere from relatively harmless to entirely manipulative. Search engines have been transparent that a they use user interaction and time spent on a page to help rank and often times a CTA will be designed specifically to keep you on-site or on page.

If you ever find yourself endlessly clicking away at a website, at least one portion of that is likely due to the presence of minimally used colors to draw your behavior into a specific area of the website or page of the website. Sometimes these colors can create a sense of urgency to manipulate us into interacting and sticking around, and more often than not these are the most beautiful sites we might visit. These types of sites can be professionally crafted and intentional in their design.

The cost of this sort of behavior can sometimes be that you might have visited a page for the written content or information on it but only find yourself constantly distracted by intentionally placed colors and overlays following you down the page. They are almost always intentionally brighter and more colorful when compared to what you might be reading. Other sites may just be ugly and have color everywhere, distracting you from really being able to jump into some great content. News sites are often guilty of doing this.

Additionally on mobile we may have many apps that reward us with popping icons upon interaction. These designs aren’t too dissimilar to that of slot machines in how we might pull that lever, get that colorful response and get a buzz later on when an unpredictable reward occurs. Sound familiar? While portions of these design elements will continue to operate as expected, the use of grayscale seems to substantially dampen their impact on us psychologically. Some app icons might grab our attention with their bright colors causing us to instinctively engage in the first place as well.

So how do you apply grayscale to your daily life? Research your operating system and apply grayscale to your use case just to try it out. If you don’t like it, give it a day and go back. On both iOS and Android it is possible to implement a system wide grayscale with a quick triple tap toggle to turn it on or off through accessibility shortcuts. On traditional computers open source extensions available for Firefox and Chrome such as Dark Reader come with a built in grayscale option that can help you cut down on the distractions. Everything truly does feel calmer and more minimalist when it’s written like a pencil on paper. It’s also part of the reason I’ve chosen to relax the use of colors on this site and keep things as minimal as possible.


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