The ‘Flat’ Look – Passing Trend or Strategic Move?

By Pat Gudhka

Flat design is getting more and more popular with each passing day, and while people often dismiss this style of design as simply altering the aesthetic component of a digital product, take a look deeper and you’ll notice a lot more strategy behind the ‘flat’ look.

Despite the restraints of minimalism, flat design offers sophistication and complexity. It aims to embrace the limits of the screen, streamline designs, make exploring the web easier and faster, and often more functional. It trades in the gradients for plain colours, a reaction to the smothering skeuomorphic designs that we see everywhere.

‘Skeuomorphism’, in context of the digital world, is to emulate any objects in the physical world in the Graphical User Interface or GUI.  Apple products are popular for skeuomorphism – take the Apple Clock for example; the design incorporates subtle details such as the shuddering movement of the second hand that otherwise only happens on the physical counterpart.

Problems with Skeuomorphism:

  • It limits creativity and functionality when emulating components that are irrelevant in the digital format.
  • It looks inconsistent when combined with less dimensional components.
  • It can take up valuable screen space and increase load times.

Is flat design the solution?

  • Flat design embraces the limitations of the digital experience. By accepting that anything on a screen will never truly look three dimensional, it strips away the decorative illusion and uses beautiful yet simple design to create a better user experience.
  • It looks friendly and inviting, but it does this by displaying a clear, engaging GUI rather than mimicking a physical product that you are familiar with. It strips out the unnecessary visual elements but is not as restrictive as minimalism.
  • It works great for small screens, particularly app or mobile design. The Android platform and the Windows Phone both use flat design for their operating systems.
  • Through simplicity, it allows users to grasp messages more quickly. Images such as icons can indicate universal actions or purposes so that any user can easily understand them. The Noun Project is a great resource for such icons, supporting the flat design approach.
  • It ‘pops’ through the use of vivid colour – lots of it! In the example below you can see the UI aspect of searching for a flight on an app designed by Indonesian UI designer Bady and how the design relies on colours and icons to give users meaning.
  • It puts the focus back on words. The message on your site is essential, and flat design gives you the responsibility to play with the typography and layout to truly explore what works.

Because it strips away all the unnecessary components of design, flat design is often hard to achieve and requires a lot of work and attention to every detail. There are no places to hide with this approach.

That being said, flat design has all the ingredients to make a site beautiful and enhance functionality. It understands that a sense of familiarity is important to the user experience but does this via the digital medium and not through replication of the physical world. It’s adaptable and open to new ideas, and is far more than a passing fad.

This article originally appeared on http://www.learnmarketing.com.au/user-experience/the-flat-look-passing-trend-or-strategic-move/

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