Flat design sounds great, looks great. So how could that be bad for your business?

Most flat design user interfaces are clean, simple but it requires care to ensure that the user will know what to do. Visitors need to know what areas are static and which are clickable. Without the use of dimension or the subtle clues that realism gives, flat design in particular needs a strong hierarchy and should be structured so that the information is in the exact place the user will be looking for it.

Flat Design has been around since the Swiss styles of the 1800s, but this year we are experiencing a major shift toward flat website design. Many things have occurred to get us to this point. But is it a trend that your business needs to follow or is there something else you should know? Let’s take a look at what it is and what got us here before you decide to implement it as you try to effectively reach your audience.

Skeuomorphism

Before we look at flat design, let’s talk about what it isn’t. Whether you’ve heard the word skeuomorphism before or not, this strange sounding word describes web and device interfaces as you’ve known in the past. It describes the way designs borrow the form of something from the real world to make a connection in the digital world. Examples are buttons that look like buttons you press, calendar pages that feature metal rings and shadows to make it appear like real paper, and even shutter noises when you take a photo on a smartphone. Sometimes these metaphors can be comforting, but sometimes they can be limiting, inappropriately used, or even kitschy. In the past couple of years the digital world has embraced flat design, which swings the pendulum the other way, creating a more honestly digital experience.

The Evolution of Flat Design Language

Although a flat style is nothing new, Microsoft’s Windows 8 popularized it. Windows 8 eliminated shadows, highlights, gradients and textures that we’d seen in iOS apps and instead used areas of flat color with strong typography and graphic icons. Facebook, Gmail, and many others are enjoying the minimalist design sensibility.

There are several developments that have preceded the widespread use of this trend. Flat Design evolved out of the necessity to create sites that are responsive to desktop and mobile devices with fast loading, scalable interfaces.

The technologies that opened up widespread use of more interesting fonts on the web along with higher definition monitors and screens, made it possible to design better looking sites and apps.

With increasing functionalities that sites and interfaces have to support, clearing the clutter and designing with minimal distractions is more important. Anything superfluous becomes a distraction. Flat design as a visual style allows the focus to be on the content.

Flat Design Infographic

Cons of Flat Design

Flat Design requires added expertise to create well-executed flat designed sites. It is more challenging to make a site simple but intuitive. When the buttons are flat, it is difficult for users to tell what is clickable. Usabilla did testing on 4 different websites and found that on average, 30% of the links identified on each site were in fact, not clickable.

The tradeoff for a clean and simple look with Flat Design is that it is harder for the website to have “personality” and make it interesting. The marketplace requires variety, from both the user and the business standpoint. If all sites had the same look and feel, what a boring world! If every designer picked from the plenty of new flat designed templates out there, we’d be missing out on a whole lot of creativity. So, if you choose a flat design for your website, make sure that it still captures the personality of your brand.

Conclusion

Flat Design is a trend that will likely hang around for quite a while. Perhaps a hybrid of flat, and not so flat will become more prevalent. Google’s card-based design seen on Google Now, and Pinterest, uses subtle gradients and shadows and has already been predicted as the next big thing. CSS3 is becoming much more powerful in terms of creating the depth, etc. for buttons and is opening opportunities for making skeuomorphic design without background imagery. As technologies continue to evolve, designers will no doubt develop a new digital design aesthetic.

Ultimately, you have a story to tell and a message to convey in a compelling way to your visitors. If the visual impression left by a flat look and feel doesn’t solve the problem, then it isn’t good design. Flat design, like all design, should only be used when it is an appropriate solution. Keep in mind that the needs of your users - your current and prospective customers - should always come first. Work with an experienced designer to ensure that the design of your site is effective in reaching your audience and meeting your goals.

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