What is flat design?

In the last couple of years we have seen a shift from 3D, skeuomorphic interface design, to flat, minimal design – a design trend currently known as flat design.

Flat design allows website designers to simplify their websites and reduce effects like shadows, 3D gradients and ‘real-life’ illustrations.

We’ve seen a shift in user interface (UI) and web design, from skeuomorphic design, to minimal, flat web design. So, is this a good thing? Firstly, we need to ask ourselves why this has happened. And secondly, will this just become a forgotten trend, or are flat design websites here to stay?

What is skeuomorphism?

To understand flat design sites, we first need an understanding of skeuormorphism. This is an ‘artificial’ design technique, used heavily by Apple over the last decade, to visualise digital objects as their real life counterparts. That is to say, we made objects look 3D and made buttons look like they were physical, clickable objects.

No more need for 3D realism

Since PCs became ubiquitous, people have lost the need for life like visual cues. The use of Iconography has increased dramatically worldwide, and not just digitally. Simplified versions of these life like actions or instructions are if anything, an aesthetic relief. Flat design drives the old idea of function over form – using design as a functional tool. If an aspect of the design serves no functional purpose, then it is an unnecessary distraction.

Content is king

The birth of new technologies always brings an emergence of new design or at least new design trends. The birth of the smart phone proved no exception. The need to display large amounts of content on an ever decreasing screen size meant old techniques became cumbersome and also difficult to scale aesthetically. Simplified design coupled with a stronger emphasis on beautiful typography and iconography has made viewing content on smaller devices elegant, and easier to do from a developer perspective.

Is flat design better?

Just because this style is simplified, doesn’t mean to say it is boring. Instead of the old monochromatic colour schemes of the past with the over used blue call to action, flat design uses colour to its advantage. The thing I like about flat design is that it can be beautiful but also a greater user experience (UX) at the same time. Designers are focusing on content and conversion again, rather than wild, over creative 3D graphics and other distracting elements.

Image credit: Maria Kosowska,