I don’t do a lot of “graphic” design anymore, but I still spend a lot of time designing solutions to user experience issues. These problems can range from what messaging and callouts should go on each page, to how the site’s navigation is organized, or even on occasion deciding what UI elements will work best. My design passion is problem solving. I never really cared much for the fluff of deciding on fonts and colors. This is why I love flat design—it’s what I’ve been doing all along!
What is flat design?
Flat web design is honest. It’s not trying to be something it can never be. The web is flat, it’s 2-dimensional and it is only viewed on 2D screens (for now). For a long time (read: all of web 2.0’s trends), we have been trying to make the web more 3-dimensional. We were using gradients and drop shadows to the most absurd extremes (as if we could physically press those buttons, and like there was real light reflecting off of them). We rounded all the corners as if that would keep you from pricking your finger on them. All of this was to keep up a farce of turning the internet into a real life object. The fact is: it’s not.
Flat design focuses not on the frills of the design so much as the function of the design (now we’re getting into my realm). It allows both the site creator and the users to meet goals and view content without distractions. It uses color and type to provide information and increase usability rather than just “make it pretty.” This can really give users a sense that they will be able to find what they’re looking for before they even start looking for it. Flat design is reassuring.
Why not?! There are trends and there are movements. To give you an example: bell bottoms were a trend, disco was a movement. There will be trends in flat design for sure, but there is really a movement towards simplification, minimalism, clarity, precision. Everything I strive for when designing for the web. Finally, everyone seems to want to catch on!
Apple and Skeumorphism
The very stark contrast to flat design is skeumorphism. At some point a couple years ago, Apple decided they would try to make all their apps look like the physical objects they represent, or at least the physical objects they represented, somewhere circa 1970. I mean, I don’t think you can even buy a leather bound calendar anymore! Not that anyone but maybe the Donald would want one.… but that aside, who were they trying to kid? I’m 27-years-old, and I think the last time I owned a physical address book it was filled with the names and phone numbers of my 10 or so friends from the 3rd grade. Seriously. Trying to keep up the look of these relics isn’t even relevant anymore!
Not surprisingly, now that my product design idol Jony Ive is taking over the UI design also, don’t be surprised when you see iOS 7 or 8 steeped in flat design. We don’t have to limit our designs to replications of physical objects anymore, and why should we? We have the capability to do so much more with technology and the internet that limiting ourselves is doing a disservice to the wonder we could be creating!