Continuing with our practice of offering the low-down on the latest industry trends, let’s delve into another which is running hot at present – flat design.
While not strictly new, flat design is certainly in favour in the digital community and is also being embraced by major players in the commercial market. At this point, we would actually like to tip the hat to Microsoft, who have been pioneering flat design in recent years through interfaces like Windows 8 and Xbox (below).
On May 1 we talked about the evolution of modern UI (Demystifying modern UI), which has progressed from the clean lines of Swiss Style to the tile-based graphics we see today. Well, flat design is really the product of modern UI responding to the demands of the current digital landscape.
The philosophy is as simple as it sounds. Flat design removes superfluous graphics and improves the quality of human interaction by focusing on function and convenience. By choosing usability over graphics, flat design makes UX a lot more intuitive. Flat designs are two-dimensional and often feature elements like coloured tiles, clear space and clean edges, without using embellishments such as shadows, faux textures and other skeuomorphic elements.
Skeuomorphism is a design principle where digital elements are rendered to mimic their real-world counterparts. It’s something we have all subconsciously become accustomed to over the past few decades, as it has played a major role in educating us in the digital realm. Skeuomorphism was particularly advantageous when using new technology was still an alien experience for people, as being able to navigate via familiar cues e.g. a life-like digital folder, helped guide us along. Today, with mobile, digital and touch technology pervading almost every corner of our daily lives, these explicit visual cues far less necessary.
Is flat better than skeuo-ed?
Some will argue that skeuomorphism still has a place, because users still appreciate the familiarity of interacting with things like Apple’s iCal or an online magazine which page turns like its physical equivalent. However, from a UX perspective, we see flat design as being a tool which will help us take UX to a whole new level. By stripping away the ‘extras’, flat designs respond to user needs and behaviours and keep designers honest by insisting that every page element serves a purpose. UX then becomes more than just an accessory, but a way to get people through their tasks more efficiently. This value-add in terms of productivity augments a user’s overall experience – a massive plus given how fast-paced and demanding the digital world can be.
But perhaps most convincingly, is the fact that flat design was born to be consumed on mobile device channels. The way in which a flat design translates to a smart phone or tablet is crisp, clear and – to be honest – extremely impressive.
Is it for everybody?
Like most things we discuss, flat design is not a one-size-fits-all solution. But as businesses start to talk digital workplace, and mobile solutions, so the flat design conversation becomes more relevant. The most important thing to consider is ease of use. Will flat design make it easier for your workers to interact with business intelligence and information, particularly when mobile? If the answer is yes, it could be the start of some exciting new conversations.
Where will digital design go next?
This is a great question, given the nature of flat design is so minimalist and pared back. Perhaps as the common elements of skeuomorphism disappear from digital design people will revolt and demand their comforting presence is restored! Only time will tell. But, as a business, we are particularly interested in how design will evolve as the industry moves towards greater device convergence. Specifically, how modern UI will unfold across different devices and for different users.
From an innovation perspective, our involvement as Project Leaders for a proposed new Digital Innovation Precinct in Tasmania also has us considering the role wearable technology will have on design and the digital experience in the not-so-distant-future. (Hint, hint: it’s another massive leap forward, even from smart phones).
For now, we are working on a number of innovative new designs for clients who are ready to test the water – not to mention being only weeks away from releasing our new flat design-inspired company website. Feel free to stay tuned, or speak with us today.
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