Flat and Thin are In

Designers have been wondering when or even if Apple would go flat and when they did (in iOS 7), it put it’s stamp of cool-ness approval on this design strategy.  But should you follow this new(ish) design trend?

The iOS7’s UI is not completely flat; however, it is MUCH flatter than the previous versions of the operating system. The company has moved away from glossy and beveled icons with strong drop shadows. Instead what we will get are smooth and very subtle gradients, light soft shadows, and very vivid and bright colors.

Critics have bombarded Apple by claiming that the iOS7 looks unpolished, which is something Apple is not known for; while the supporters claim the iOS7 is not the final look and merely a transition phase. Either way, Apple is loosely following the flat design trend.

How Flat Design Started

Flat design has existed for a long time and it was one of the most popular styles of design during the Soviet era. It hadn’t caught up in the digital world until the mid-2000s when Microsoft started implementing their Metro design philosophy.

flat v skeuomorphism

Metro aims to simplify the user interface by relying more on typography and less on graphics. This creates a flatter look, which has its own pros and cons. Flat design can be problematic because all elements are at the same level in the Z-axis of the 3D space, so it can be more difficult to create a depth perception.

Over the past few years Google has shifted toward flat design as well, although somewhat in a sneaky way. The company didn’t do it as a major redesign, but rather slowly implementing new design pieces to each of its products. Android has seen a major push toward the flat design with the Ice Cream Sandwich release on October 17, 2011.

Finally, Apple, who typically is all about skeuomorphism, went flat in their latest release of iOS 7.

Improving the User Experience

The three tech giants are moving toward flat design in their efforts to improve the overall user experience. Although flat design is not necessary the goal of any design project, it often ends up being the result.

In most simplistic terms, the more design elements you add, the busier the design will be. Gradients, shadows, patterns, and textures can bring a design to life, but too much will quickly clutter it into a huge mess.

Focusing on Content

Improving the user experience is not only about simplifying the UI or making it look flat. Those two are merely the methods we use to bring emphasis on what matters most in our products – content.

The likely goal of the big three giants in moving toward the flat design was to place a higher focus on the content while eliminating the distractions from UI elements.

Should you follow the trend?

This is kind of a tricky question. The real answer is that you should not redesign your website, app, or product just to implement flat design.

Your goals should be to improve user experience by focusing on good quality content. Letting the content shine through without distractions from other UI or page elements will ensure a smoother and better user experience.

If you prefer the look of the flat design to the traditional gradient- and shadow-heavy design, then you can mention it to your designer so he or she has a better vision of what you are looking for. But don’t sacrifice on the user experience over any specific design style or element.

When we were considering a radical new change to the JDM Digital website, we found that going with a flat design would force us to “keep it simple, stupid!”  That said, when a client’s site benefits from a more realistic (aka skeuomorphic) design, we’ll employ it to the delight of their audience.

Is the Future Flat?

Flat design is REALLY “in” right now because of the focus on user experience (or UX). It’s all about UX everywhere. But is flat design the future? That’s pretty much impossible to say; however, design trends change all the time and this one is bound to change and evolve as well.

It’s important to mention that you do not need flat design in order to have a flawless and smooth user experience. Designers have been able to design user-friendly interfaces for a long time.

Design Trends
Flat and Thin are In
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About the Author

Justin Downey
27 articles
About / Bio
President of Dallas-based digital ad agency, JDM Digital, Justin has decades of B2B experience in all things digital. His company, JDM, specializes in branding, design, web development, copywriting and more 'weird and wonderful' things.
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