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In a nutshell, flat design can be summed up by the old proverb K.I.S.S. or “Keep it simple, stupid.” Flat design is based on the principle that web design must be simplified and return to a more classically digital look. Some have even called flat design so friendly to users that it’s user-centric…as in users are first and foremost in mind with this design approach.
Flat design, therefore, is a reaction and even a rebellion of sorts against excesses in web design. These excesses came from a mentality among some designers that they had to really wow their site visitors in order to keep them interested. As a result, they’d incorporate all sorts of gimmicky (though not necessarily useful) things into a site, such as flashy animations and illustrations.
From there, skeuomorphic design entered the fray, which, despite good intentions of bringing the familiarity of real life to the screen, actually incorporated more gimmicks in the form of drop shadows, falsely realistic textures and even real-object properties.
The Basics of Flat Design
Minimalism and simplicity characterize flat design, which means that it naturally promotes usability. It features vibrant colors, well-defined edges, open spaces, cleanness and, of course, two-dimensional or flat illustrations. It’s everything that excess in web design is not. Windows 8, Microsoft’s newest release of its operating system, is a prime example of flat design.
Microsoft was actually one of the first companies to use this design style in a big way in its interface. Clearly, this can be seen as an answer to Apple’s overuse of skeuomorphic design, which has been suffering a backlash lately. You’ll notice, from the example of Windows 8 above, that flat design emphasizes basic and icon-like images over transforming real-world objects into small, realistic-looking illustrations. As a result, flat design promotes a distinct separation between real-world items and technology.
Absence of Added Effects
The whole point of flat design is to do away with the gimmickry, so there are no added effects to what is clean and simple design. Flat design derives its name from its two-dimensional approach that uses flat elements, which means there are no excesses. This means there are no bevels, drop shadows, gradients or additional methods that incorporate a layer of depth. Look at boxes or elements on a webpage designed with a flat-design mentality: There are only crisp edges instead of shadows.
Have a look at the website of TriplAgent. It exemplifies these characteristics to a tee.
Flat design succeeds since it’s still highly unique, but it doesn’t need to resort to excesses, gimmickry and exaggerations to appeal to site visitors. It depends on a well-organized hierarchy in the look and positioning of elements, so that sites are super-easy for users to interact with.
Typography Takes Center Stage
It’s no surprise that, without the presence of extra elements or complicated distractions in flat design, typography is given a chance to show what it can do when the focus shifts to it more prominently. Typography has perhaps never been as important as a single element as it’s been in flat design because there’s just less for your eyes to be distracted by.
The style of the fonts must be harmonious with the overall minimalist appearance of flat design; a fancy font will stand in sharp contrast to simple design elements. It’s also equally crucial that type is worded simply and bold. Reliable choices for a winning flat-design font are sans serif fonts. It doesn’t hurt to throw site visitors a curveball by, for example, incorporating just one highly creative font as an art element to contrast with the consistent minimalism. However, don’t overdo it!
Typeface in flat design must also educate users on how to get the most out of the design scheme. Therefore, elements and buttons on a webpage should be labeled for efficient use and interactivity.
Here’s a great example of type used ideally in flat design. It’s by Flatmate, a Swedish web agency.
Color Is Memorably Vibrant
Spend some time on any flat-design website, and you’ll instantly remark that the colors are way brighter and more vibrant than on non-flat-design websites. With such a focus on simplicity, flat design creates an opportunity for a fundamental design element like the website colors to really shine.
This can be traced back to the color palettes for flat design. Besides being more vibrant, they normally feature lots more hues as well. For instance, whereas traditional color palettes focus on just two or three colors, flat-design palettes can make use of as many as eight colors equally.
Hues are typically vibrant without any unnecessary tones or tints while both primary and secondary colors are very popular, too. As of right now, some colors seem to be more in favor than others: Retro colors (blue, green, purple and salmon) are quite widespread on flat-design sites.
On Wistia’s website, you can clearly observe all of these aspects of color seamlessly coming together!
Skeuomorphic Design: Just the Opposite
If you’re still not completely clear on what flat design is, then looking at its complete opposite, skeuomorphic design, is a perfect way to take note of the sharp contrasts in the two design approaches. Essentially, skeuomorphic design is characterized by making websites more familiar to users by incorporating tactile and physical properties from the real world into web design.
For instance, the design for Find My Friends, which is an app created by Apple for people who want to follow users and trace their iOS devices, is a perfect example of skeuomorphism. Just look at the leather stitching that forms the border on the app’s homepage.
Some people think that skeuomorphic design is falling out of favor. This is because Apple, which popularized this sometimes-reviled design technique with its iOS mobile operating system, itself is moving away from skeuomorphic design, largely thanks to the resignation of Scott Forstall, the former senior vice president of Apple’s iOS software.
Flat Design Is a Rebellion
In its most basic interpretation, flat design is an all-out revolt against the excesses and embellishments that some web designers have abused over the last few years. This is a good development because lots of websites that feature fancy animations and illustrations don’t do the user experience any favors at all. Flat design takes a website down to its most stripped-down aesthetic…while still looking visually appealing and providing a better user experience.
What do you think about flat design? Is it flat design’s time right now, or is this just a temporary response to excesses like skeuomorphism? Do you find yourself preferring skeuomorphic design over flat design? Sound off in the comments section below!
Published on: Mar 03, 2021