December 4, 2015

What is Flat Design?

Flat Design is the most popular modern web design trend. It is a minimalist style where elements lose the illusion of three-dimensional quality and takes digital design back to the basics.

The opposite of flat design is skeuomorphism which has been a staple of user interface design as computers became prominent in our daily lives. Skeuomorphism is the use of details and ornamentation to make one thing look like another. In UI design it is employed to make a digital element look like something from the physical world, used to help people interpret these new digital tools by providing visual cues to unde­rstanding their function. Common skeuomorphic characteristics include drop shadows, bevels, gradients, textures and anything that is meant to give the illusion of third-dimensions.

As computers are now ingrained in human culture and most people can easily find their way around software and applications we have seen a move toward a cleaner, functionally-focused, user-centric interface which emphasizes usability.

The inspiration for flat design is said to come from a few sources:

  • Swiss Style (also known as International Typographic Style). A style of design originating in Switzerland in the 1940’s and 1950’s which focused on the use of grids, sans-serif typography and a clean hierarchy of content and layout.
  • Minimalism – which has an extensive history in architecture, visual art and design. Well-known for removing everything in a piece, leaving just the necessary elements. Other qualities of minimalism include geometric shapes, bright colors and clean lines.

The popularity of digital flat design is due to the use of the style by Microsoft and Apple. Microsoft moved toward a flat design style as early as 2006 with the Zune media player and later in the Windows phone and Windows 8 operating systems. Apple introduced flat design to their interface with the release of IOS 7 in 2013, as Apple’s aesthetic heavily influences web and application design (due to Apple’s popularity amongst designers) this made flat design the common standard for modern user interface design overnight.

There are many advantages to flat design style. It feels crisp and modern, allowing the focus to be on what matters most in the content and ‘future-proofs’ by removing those characteristics that can easily date. It removes the unnecessary parts and so makes the design more efficient, an important factor with the rise of responsive design. Allowing the design to load faster and translate across various screen sizes better. The clean, open spaces, crisp edges and bright colors grab attention and guide the viewers eye, allowing a clear hierarchy of importance. Flat design goes back to the basics, creating a beautiful, functional user interface.