Digitalism is taking a minimalist turn. With digital design turning its back on the skeuomorphic and re-embracing minimalism, it leaves us asking whether the vogue of Flat Design is merely a passing fad or does it herald a revolution in web aesthetics?
I should really start by correcting myself. By calling Flat Design a revolution in web aesthetics is a statement that is maybe too bombastic. Whether you realise it or not we are already familiar with Flat Design, we just probably understand it more under the moniker 'minimalism'.
Flat design has reemerged as a resolution to its predecessor skeuomorphism; replacing the over-embellished and complicated elements of design in favour of bold simplicity. Essentially it's a jump from one extreme to another; with many big names shedding their excess detail in favour of more simplistic and minimal design.
So, just in case your brain has been blown apart by the assault of simplistic shapes and bold colours that you have been experiencing recently, here is a little look into Flat Design and what it could mean for the future of digital design.
What is Flat Design?
Flat Design pretty much explains itself in its name. Flat Design is design that is flat in its dimensions, this means that there are little to no embellishments in any of the elements that exist on a site. This means that drop shadows, bevels, embossing, gradients and pretty much anything that adds depth to an element are absent. Every single element from navigational tools to buttons are all crisp and completely flat.
Flat Design also demonstrates an abandonment of realism in design. Skeuomorphic design elements that mimic textures, materials and functions of real objects have been replaced by un-intersecting planes, which allows for clear distinction between background images and foreground images, buttons, text and navigation.
Basically if you think of the famous minimalist piece by Piet Mondrian: Composition No. 10 (above), Flat Design represents a kind of digital manifestation of this style of painting but on a website; history is indeed cyclical.
What makes Flat Design?
Flat Design marks a movement that stresses on the importance of functionality and structure. As I said before, the ethos behind Flat Design is a move away from the superfluous qualities of skeuomorphism. This means that visual realism is no longer as important as the clean fundamentals of design and function. Flat Design is a step away from the jaded detail for the sake of detail ethos of design.
As you will have seen in the light of iOS 7 and Windows 8, this approach has been a massive success in mobile design as it makes economical use of the smaller space available to designers; hence why even Apple, the pioneers of skeuomorphic design are espousing it. Flat Designed user interfaces are much easier to understand and navigate therefore presenting usability with a focus on visual clarity and communication through ease of function.
The consensus of what defines Flat Design seems to revert back to five common elements. Though don't assume that all these need to be included as designs such as the iTunes interface incorporate these elements as well as adding depth and tone.
No added embellishments: Flat Designs use two-dimensional elements without any kind of embellishment or effect that will add to the depth or realism of the design. This means an exclusion of effects such as bevels, drop shadows, gradients and embossing accents.
Only use simple elements: Flat Design incorporates simple user interface elements, such as icons and buttons. Flat Designers will often stick to using only simple shapes like circles, rectangles and squares and let each shape to stand alone. Furthermore each user interface element should focus on ease of functionality. This means that interaction should be based on user intuition without the need for in-design explanation.
Focus on Typography: Typography is a simple yet important element of Flat Design. Flat Design ensures that the tone of the typeface matches the universal design; this means that the use of Sans Serif variations and weights are common as is the use of novelty fonts as a part of the design scheme.
Use of colours, hues and palettes: Flat Design is bright and colourful. Many Flat Designs utilize vibrant hues, as well as retro colours as common design elements. When it comes to Flat Design bright and bold colour combinations are key, so revert to the colour wheel for complementary colours that are pure and coincide in harmony.
Minimalist in mind: less is more. Avoid trying to create realistic elements and stay out of the third dimension and skeuomorphism. This means that just using simple colour and text will often be enough for an effective Flat Design.
Is the future looking flat?
Like all design vogues, Flat Design will no doubt eventually be given over to the next design trend. Though the view from here looks like Flat Design could be here for a while. Unlike many other trends that have come and gone, Flat Design boasts the fact that it is functionally effective. With mobile technology slowly beginning to dominate the industry, Flat Design has the benefit of working unbelievably well on this medium and with Apple coming off their skeuomorphistic high horse to embrace it, I can imagine that Flat Design will be with us for a long time to come.