I am fond of ‘Trends’ actually. According to me, trends give us (me, to be particular) one of the prominent reasons for happiness. Almost every independent group on God’s green Earth has a trend of its own. Whether we know it or not, trends keep updating themselves and continue to delight us, every now and then. Rest is our part to turn around, leave a glance and lose our hearts or turn a deaf ear to them. But there are certain trends that are too condescending to be dispelled from our interests. Yes. Some of them are deep-rooted, which only evolve in due course of time.
One such proliferated trend has mesmerized the User interface (UI) and app designers in recent times. The entire design world was flattered by this trend, that even giants in this field have graciously embraced the same. Adapting to this trend has become a ritual now, at least to wipe off the outdated look and present a brand new stature. Presenting you the ‘Flat’ aesthetic, the modern day’s design trend. Of course, ‘flattening’ everything is the soul concept behind this aesthetic.
Designing world is where trends always move backwards to where everything actually started. This flat aesthetic is no exception. You would’ve likely heard its praises sung on blogs and in lists of design trends. This visually simplistic style has its roots in minimalism and can take a variety of forms, but is better defined by what it isn’t. It isn’t 3D. The style’s name comes from its two-dimensional qualities, including flat shapes and the absence of details that create depth and dimension — such as shadows, highlights, and textures. It isn’t skeuomorphic (container + form). Flat design started as reaction against skeuomorphism, an embellished style intended to suggest or resemble real-world objects or processes.
Flat design really started becoming a recognizable style in 2012 and 2013. Those were the years this trend became highly visible (and easier to emulate) thanks to the release of Windows 8 and iOS 7.
The ‘sweet spot’ in the evolution of flat design is somewhere between the original trend and the skeuomorphic ideals that were abandoned. But since flat design has been around for several years now and is still going strong, it’s likely more than just a passing trend. This drives me to know more about the entire reason for such flourishment and where this is to end up in future.
Since Microsoft and Apple jumped on board with flat design, the style was quickly adopted as a fresh approach to user experience. It was and continues to be popular for web and mobile design — and for good reason.
Compatibility with responsive design is an important occupant in the pros corner of our aesthetic. Flat design’s principles can be applied to other design categories, but its grid-based layouts and simple graphics are particularly suited to web and mobile design since they’re easily able to be resized or rearranged to display on different devices and screen sizes. On the other hand, skeuomorphism’s highly detailed style with lots of shadows and textures, along with fixed-size imagery, often doesn’t translate well when shrunk down or enlarged to fit various viewing methods.
Our hero has another affable quality, Flexibility. Call it what you like — a grid, cards, modules, or blocks — many designs going for the flat look tend to have compositions organized by uniform geometric shapes. This type of layout, where every design element has its place, is easy to scan and navigate quickly.
Flat qualities also extend to designers’ approach to typesetting, which often results in larger, more streamlined typography. The absence of shadows and other effects makes text easier to read.
But, the trend also has a box filled with cons, compromised usability being a principal one. In an effort to emphasize flat design’s clean, streamlined qualities, some designers fall into the trap of focusing too much on aesthetics — to the extent that it negatively impacts a design’s usability. This is a particular risk for web and mobile design. Take this website as an example. Are all the boxes clickable? Only some of them? It’s hard to tell just by looking at it.
Lack of distinctiveness is the next one in the queue. One of the downsides of flat design is that sticking to a simplistic, narrowly defined visual style often results in the designs and colours they choose that look very or somewhat similar.
Flat design regularly shows up on design trend lists, as it continues to be a popular choice for designers who want their work to come across as modern or reflective of current technology, that some designers will apply them just to follow the crowd, without really thinking about their usefulness. This can result in purposeless design choices — for instance, early flat design’s fondness for long shadows.
While early iterations of flat design were characterized by a strict visual simplicity, recent developments have seen the subtle reintroduction of qualities like shadow and texture — for both aesthetic and functional reasons.
The result of these tweaks to a purely flat approach to design resulted in a style often referred to as “Flat 2.0” or “almost-flat” design. This style is more of a compromise: you still get the clean simplicity of flat design, but add some subtly skeuomorphic qualities for visual variety and improved usability.
Having many characteristics in common with almost-flat design, material design is a visual language developed by Google that emphasizes grid-based layouts and features “deliberate colour choices, edge-to-edge imagery, large-scale typography, and intentional white space” for a bold, graphic look.
So while big brands like Microsoft, Apple, and Google definitely have influence when it comes to popularizing design styles, it’s the designers that take trends and run with them to create something new — it’s the designers that help usher in the next “big thing.”