How many times have you come across websites touting the benefits of Flat Design lately? While the flat web design trend has been emerging in recent years, its popularity has exploded thanks to large companies and organizations changing their design aesthetic and embracing flat design.
So, where the heck did flat design come from? And why are we seeing it everywhere on the Web? As with anything and everything, knowing where a style or technique’s origins can help you make more educated decisions when it comes to the use of that particular design aesthetic.
Let’s take a thorough look at what flat design is and why it’s so popular today.
FLAT DESIGN 101
Flat Design: What It Is and What It Ain’t
For those of you who have been living under a rock and haven’t heard of the term, “flat design” is the term given to a style of design where elements lose any type of stylistic characters that make them appear as though they lift off the page. What?! This means stylistic characters like drop shadows, gradients and textures are removed so that they lose the three-dimensional element. Modern designers gravitate toward flat design because it feels clean and crisp, it’s easy to use and it allows designers to focus on the most important aspects of good web design: the content and the message they’re trying to put across.
By removing design styles that can easily date these savvy designers are essentially future-proofing their designs so that they stay relevant for longer periods of time. To put it simply: flat design seems to be taking out the trash. It’s a more efficient and effective way to design and you should probably stop what you’re doing right now and get on board.
Perhaps I should first school on design that isn’t flat design. In web terms, the opposite of flat design is rich design. Rich design is like your tacky grandmother from your father’s side. She comes with all the ornaments such as bevels, reflections, drop shadows and gradients. These tropes are often employed to make elements seem more tactile but often the only effect they generate is one of out-dated, gaudy design.
Flat web design favours clean edges, solid colours, engaging palettes, flat/two-dimensional images and multi-browser compatible icons and fonts. In essence, if a design element serves no functional purpose, it’s considered detrimental to the user experience, hence the minimalistic nature of flat design.
Creation Myth: Where Did Flat Design Come From?
Most of what we see on the web has origins from fine art. While it may be difficult to determine the exact start of flat design or where it came from exactly, we can look at a few periods of design and art that flat design takes inspiration from.
Swiss Style of Design
The Swiss style of design, also known as the International Typographic Style, is the main period of design that comes to mind when considering the history of flat design. This minimalist style was the dominant throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s and mainly focused on the use of grids, sans-serif typography, and the clean hierarchy of content and layout.
Typography was a major element in Swiss design and soon our much loved Helvetica typeface was created in Switzerland in 1957. Thank you Switzerland!
Flat design has also been influenced by Minimalism. The term “minimalism” is sometimes used interchangeably with today’s flat design, but minimalism was a popular art technique decades before the web was developed. Minimalism has history in architecture, visual art, whereas flat design takes its influence from the design and visual art expressions of minimalism. Minimalism embraces efficiency. When you employ a minimalist aesthetic, you leave just the necessary elements. Geometric shapes, bright colours, and clean lines dominate both old and modern minimalism style design.
Who’s Your Daddy?
Microsoft and Apple have had the most impact on making flat design popular in the last decade. While Microsoft was working on its flat design style, Apple was working on something similar. Apple started hinting at moving away from its use of skeuomorphism, and then completely abandoned it in favour of a flat design with the release of iOS 7 in the summer of 2013. The design of iOS 7 seemed to have made flat design even more popular than it was before practically overnight.
Apple carries a lot of clout when it comes to trendsetting styles and people tend to follow its design aesthetic because it feels more modern and on trend. So when Apple switched to flat design everything else seemed outdated and people began to redesign with this new, flatter design. This is most evident in the different apps that have been updated to work well with iOS 7.
Ring! Ring! Hello Responsive Design!
It’s important to note that the main reason flat design has become so popular in recent years is because of the development of responsive design. As more and more devices are connecting to the web, with various screen sizes and browser restrictions, designers are finding that their tried-and-true design styles don’t translate as well when you have to shrink those designs into smaller viewports.
Flat design allows for efficient web. Without the extra design elements in the way, clutter up the space, websites can load much faster and are easier to resize to smartphones and tablets. It’s much easier to display crisp boxes and typography than it is to make several different images to accommodate all the various devices and features out there.
Back to The Future… of Flat Design
Considering how fast the web changes these days, it’s easy to say that flat design will eventually run its course in due time. It’s not the perfect design and there are obvious flaws but as designers experiment, test, and learn, flat design will evolve and eventually a new style will emerge in its wake. Perhaps it’s just a matter of being able to incorporate it with other styles the way Google does. They take the best of both worlds…hmmm!
While flat design may seem new and exciting, and is a popular trend, it isn’t revolutionising the web. Flat website design creates a dividing line between technology and tactile objects encouraging a user-friendly and functional approach to ‘design’, with an emphasis on ease of operation. It makes surfing the web via your smartphone and tablet easier, but it’s nothing ground breaking, is it?! Well, its user centric foundations have seen it replace the old-school skeumorphic design with a more simplified, universally recognised aesthetic.
Flat design empowers the UI of all modern Apple, Android and Windows devices. To adopt its approaches is to inherit its reach. It’s a style consumers expect and trust these days, and its introduction within the framework of your website could be the difference between online success & failure.
Flat UI designs, using brighter colours and flat visual effects with negligible or even nil gradients and graphical illustration, became popular because of the outrageous demand of something new and minimalistic. They follow a minimalist, responsive approach that is user friendly, eye- catching, and works on any kind of website that exists.
Lost and Found
Have I lost you yet? This is a lot of information, but I’m going to give you some links to some more. There are plenty of resources out there that can help you better understand flat design and can advise you on how to use it on your own personal and professional projects.
- www.flaticon.com offers great free flat icons for your flat designing needs. There are so many it’s easy to overdo so don’t get carried away!
- http://designmodo.github.io/Flat-UI/ is a free user interface kit with loads of ideas and free stuff. Free! Stuff!
- http://graphicburger.com/flat-design-ui-components/ is not about burgers at all, but is new UI kit that includes a set of beautiful components which can be used to create websites and applications. For Free. Like the best things in life.
There are literally hundreds of other websites that will offer you all kinds of flat design UI kits. If flat design isn’t your aesthetic, then don’t adopt it as your design mantra. There are ways for you to stay true to your natural style and incorporate elements of flat design in order to stay up to date and contemporary.
The beauty of flat design is that it’s clear-cut and clean. The sharpness and varied features result in a design that’s modern and tidy. If it’s too simple it may be unable to put across a complex visual communication. Some experts feel that this simplicity may be a disadvantage, but who can say for sure? At the end of the day, good design is all about usability and functionality. No one design can fit all web sites and it’s up to you what kind of style you want to embrace. Right now, flat design is in fashion, so we feel it’s best to stay current and keep up with the trend.
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Posted in Flat Design