Unless you have recently returned from a six month wilderness trek, you would have heard about flat web design. Eschewing the status quo of the “traditional” skeuopmorphic models that have dictated the design direction for the last several years, flat design has been featured prominently in the look of industry leaders.
From Microsoft’s Metro interface, to Google plus, to the recently redesigned Facebook icon flat design has gone from novel minority to ubiquitous standard in a relatively short time. Is this the look that the web was made for? Or just a passing fad?
A Skeuopmorphic Start
Skeuopmorphism created a sense of familiarity. It grounded things in the real world. The more something looked like its real life counterpart, the easier it was to make a connection with its use and function. “Buttons in reality pop out. So they should look like they pop out on a web page.” No doubt it was also intended to add a sense of ‘richness’ to the designs. “This notebook looks like it’s made of leather” or “this heading has gradients and shadows”.
However, the web is not as young as it used to be anymore. Many of its users cannot imagine a time when it did not exist. Those connections are not as necessary anymore.
Flat Design Sticks Out
It may be hard to pinpoint the exact turning point when we started turning to flat web design and its accompanying minimalist fare, but most point to the introduction of the aforementioned Metro user interface in the popularizing of it.
After years of being perceived as uncool compared to what was coming out of Cupertino, Microsoft wanted something to set themselves apart. Something fresh, different, eye-catching. And in that respect they have truly been successful. It is visually arresting. When every new Android phone looked genetically identical to the iOS offerings, the new Windows OS stood out. Mechanics aside, it was clean and easy on the eyes. But is it a case of what is new is fresh – Like getting a new haircut or rearranging the furniture? Or is this what the web is supposed to look like?
A New Standard or Bandwagon?
Well, flat web design certainly has it’s advantages. It’s clean, minimalist and uncluttered, if you like that sort of thing. Definitely a boon in the mobile realm where space is precious. Easier navigation and making salient features stand out better can capture the user’s attention. From a design perspective it can also be liberating.
“I don’t have to make this camera icon look like a camera. It can be more stylized – give the impression of a camera.”
Solid matte colours tend to stand out against a monochromatic background. Colour and space are what it uses to highlight and accentuate. And it works. At the end of the day though, it is still a trend. We all thought that Web 2.0 with it’s bubbly buttons was the coolest thing until the cool kids started wearing different shoes. The fact is, only time will reveal if this is more than just a trend.
Flat design is beautiful, clean, and functional. It is contemporary. Will your site look dated if you do not use it? Probably. Will there be more pressure to conform to its style? Definitely. Will this be the de facto standard? Well it seems that it already is.