Experts Weigh In: Is Flat Design Making The Web Boring?
Flat design is everywhere: from your neighbor’s blog to your grocery store’s website. The trend rejects real life textures and flashy animations, and instead, we get simple shapes, colors, and a distinctly ‘digital’ look. But in a world where web designers are capable of much more complex design, is this simplicity trend simply boring? We asked experts from across the globe what they think and their opinions are definitely split:
Jesse Smith, UX Designer in Residence, General Assembly
Flat design is not inherently boring, even if it feels that way right now, it’s honestly something worse.
When smartphones first took off, the virtual world was still so new to consumers that websites and apps were designed with visual clues that mimicked their parallels in the real world, aka ‘skeuomorphism.’ Digital buttons were shaded to look three-dimensional so people would know to ‘push’ them. However, the emergence of virtual conventions gave designers the freedom to move away from those signifiers. When flat design first started emerging, it was praised as ‘clean’ and ’fresh.’ Of course, now that everything is flat, the web feels like a relatively sparse, boring place.
Fortunately, the pendulum of design is slowly swinging away from flat, although it’s unlikely we’ll ever return to a notepad app that looks like an actual yellow legal pad. Now that user-centered design is becoming more commonplace, the next trend, whatever it may be, will hopefully find a happy balance between beauty and utility.
John Ince, Founder & Chief Technical Officer, Project Peach
We firmly believe that form follows function, the data is the starting point of design and this data fuels the user interface (UI) if presented correctly. This enhances the data and the user experience (UX). If the design is simple to follow and enhances user understanding then this is good thing and can be thought of as creativity in itself.
Flat design came into popularity due to familiarization with the systems and products we now see. As we move forward with a product it becomes familiar: our knowledge is there and graphic tools are no longer required to aid our use, then and only then can a more flat design be used.
So to us, a totally flat design is an indicator of familiarity which is a result from a lack of innovation! Flat design is by definition boring, but really how much has a static website changed since the 1990s?
Kristen Spencer, Instructor, HackerYou
From a development perspective flat design is the most attractive solution to our current problem: providing a consistent user experience across devices. We are no longer able to know what our canvas is, so our objective is to build a site that looks just as good on any size screen, in any browser, with any type of connection. Since flat design is usually very simple and often grid-based, building a responsive web experience becomes much easier.
The trend also forces designers to focus more on the content and usability of the website, which is ultimately the most important part. Often, I find sites that attempt to think outside the box do so at the expense of usability: rejecting conventional design patterns can lead to frustration on the user’s end of things. If I can’t figure out how to quickly get to the information I want, I don’t care how ‘cutting edge’ the site’s design is!
I find the use of flat design is helping the web industry create more websites with better content, better interaction, and a better environment to develop upon. The buzzwords of flat design today are clean, simple, minimal, space, easy, subtle; but with flat design I simply feel these words are a reflection of better UX being created in light of flat design practices.
The big advantage of flat design is that it gives web developers a better insight to the essence of what UI & UX Designers are working towards in creating a more usable website. Diverting away from animation, gifs, gradients, texture, pattern will give more light and focus to content, navigation, and the user.
In my design process flat design is at the heart of all my work, from the stages of low-fidelity prototyping to full development of a solution. I feel flat design is making websites more user-centered without even knowing it and that is a great thing.
Alex Koplin, UX Design Immersive Instructor, General Assembly
Flat design is often considered a response to skeuomorphism: the gaudy, felt-covered, leather-bound aesthetic that overstayed its welcome after folks had grown accustomed to doing everything on mobile devices.
When the first iPhone was introduced, mobile app designers, following Apple’s lead, referenced familiar analogs from everyday life in order to make novel interactions more approachable. It was fun to use, it looked pretty, and we were still getting used to the convenience factor. But as time went on, those metaphors grew stale. Companies implemented designs eschewing usability principles in pursuit of trends they barely understood, and users began to voice their frustrations. In response, designers seemed to migrate to the opposite end of the spectrum.
As with so many things in life, the ideal answer isn’t black or white but somewhere in between, balancing the appropriate metaphors and pleasant aesthetics of skeuomorphism with an approach that puts content first and avoids visual clutter.