Contrary to the popular belief, flat design has been around for decades and is not a new phenomenon. Tracing its roots back to 1920s, flat design was inspired by the Bauhaus movement and evolved into the “International Typographic” or Swiss style.
While Apple was obsessed with skeuomorphism and tried to imitate real world objects, Microsoft spearheaded the flat revolution. Microsoft managed to beat Apple and Google in adopting the flat design with the Metro look and proved that it was light years ahead of its competitors. Metro look adds a touch of simplicity to the user interface.
Google followed the paradigm shift and made changes in a very subtle manner implementing changes in its products. Android’s Ice Cream Sandwich made a big leap forward and embraced the flat design. And finally Apple’s new iOS 7 washed its hands off skeuomorphic design elements and embraced the flat design elements.
What is Flat Design?
Flat design relies more on typography and less on graphics and creates a visual feel of a smooth and even look. This design philosophy does not attempt to trick users or hide the fact that users are interacting with a flat screen. It tries to accentuate the two dimensional nature of screen rather than creating illusion of three dimension. Flat design removes beveled edges, heavy gradients, textures, shadows, and reflections and aims to create a user experience that capitalizes on the strengths of digital interfaces.
Whether you like or hate it, Flat design is here to stay. In this article, I will discuss the advantages of flat design and its best practices.
Here is why flat design has become the new buzzword
#1 Simple, minimalistic and striking
With the increasing use of mobile devices, simplicity continues to attract visitors to websites. Think about the fact, mobile users are pressed for time and have to deal with information overload. Flat design removes all elements of distraction to reduce clutter. It simply knocks off elements that do not add value to your site. Flat design sports simple images. After all, complex illustrations make it very difficult to comprehend information and act as barrier in taking action.
#2 Emphasis on content
Flat is not just about simplifying UI elements or minimalism. It is about getting emphasis back on content while eliminating the distractions from UI elements. Content is the force that drives users to take action and informed decisions ultimately improving usability.
#3 Efficiency and scalability
With less clutter, distractions, and unnecessary bombardment of content, users can effortlessly navigate through the site and instantly reach the focal point. In short, users achieve their goals without too much of hassles and in a short time period. The ease of use makes your site robust, efficient and functional.
The flat design best practices such as color, typography, vibrant colors and less clutter make it very easy to embrace responsive design trends for optimum viewing on devices of different screen sizes.
Flat Design: Best practices
#1 No illusion of depth
Gone are the days of creating illusion of 3-D effects with design. Flat design adopts a honest approach and appreciates the fact that users are interacting with flat screen. Shadows, gradients, patterns, 3-D effects, and other design elements that represent real-world objects are replaced. It is more about making use of colors, typography, white space and a grid system for a consistent and coherent user experience.
Don’t shy away from using using strong, bold fonts. Keep in mind to select typography that is in sync with your design strategy. However, it is equally important to consider readability and white space. So avoid jazzy fonts that distract or are too loud. Remember typography plays a pivotal role in guiding users where you want them to visit.
Grid plays a crucial role in establishing a visual hierarchy when you are playing around with few elements. In fact, it transcends beyond just creating visual order. It allows you to draw user’s attention to important points with basic layout principles. You can consider using dense grid which support complex structure without looking cramped and messy.
Flat design makes strategic use of vibrant colors, often tactically using the best of different shades and hues from the same palette. It is important to test hues to ensure they behave in both versions light or dark. Keep on experimenting with your palette. The real challenge lies in the fact that you have a wide range for subtle and contrast elements. Keep the strongest hues for areas that need to draw attention. Don’t go overboard with too many colors. It is important to explore the power of contrast to attract attention of users. Think bold and think different.
Does it work for all?
You simply should not jump on the flat design bandwagon because it is the latest trend. It is important to assess your business goals, nature of your business, and the maturity level of your target audience. It might be an ideal choice for a designer, writer, or small businesses. But certainly not the choice for complex websites with layers of navigation. It is important that you don’t indulge in mindless chopping of information in the name of flat looks. Don’t toss usability.