Is The World Going Flat?

With the recent unveiling of Apple’s iOS 7, the curtains are being pulled back on Flat Design. But what exactly is it?

Flat design is something Design4Change is all too familiar with; we’ve been a fan and advocate of the style since our inception. Flat design is nothing new but with some of the big players like Apple, Google, and Microsoft adopting the style, it’s hard to ignore. Taking on a reductive, minimalist approach, it’s known for it’s 2D, bold, and simplified look. The reason we’re such enthusiastic cheerleaders for flat design is because when effectively done, it get’s your message across with as little noise as possible. Not to mention the beautiful influence of Swiss design on the iconography and bold colours. In Microsoft’s words, the flat aesthetic allows them to, “do more, with less.” Any communicator would wholeheartedly agree this is what we strive for every day.

 
The new Windows visual overhaul.

The new Windows visual overhaul.

 

But you can’t talk about flat design without talking about its distant cousin with fetching good looks: skeuomorphic design. Skeuomorphs are deliberately employed to make something look or feel familiar. At the base of it, skeuomorphism is meant to emulate or give clues to another thing – whether that be an object, texture, sound, etc. In regards to GUI’s (Graphic User Interfaces) on the web, skeuomorphism is used to tighten the relationship between objects in the digital and physical world. For example, skeuomorphism can be seen in the design of digital “folders” on a computer. The style is meant to mimic real, paper folders so that users have something familiar to relate to and can more easily discern its function – they can easily assume that their “folder” is a place to store files.

 
In previous versions of Windows, realistic interpretations of physical objects were used.

In previous versions of Windows, realistic interpretations of physical objects were used.

 

But as more and more people become familiar with the web, realistic-looking skeuomorphism starts to become irrelevant. Many users don’t rely anymore on the literal interpretations of physical objects in their digital world. In audio software for example, for years and even still, it’s common practice to use lifelike knobs and dials in the interface, but it’s evident that skeuomoprhism to that extent is not needed when there are simpler volume dials available.

 
It’s as if someone took a picture of some turntables and put it into the digital software.

It’s as if someone took a picture of some turntables and put it into the digital software.

 

Designing realistic skeumorphic pieces is an articulate dance between shadows, gradients, and depths. But our take on design is that it is beautiful not when there is nothing left to be added, but when there is nothing left to take away. Flat design offers this chance with the bonus that it often increases usability and provides a more satisfactory user experience. Steve Jobs was a huge proponent of skeuomorphic design but since his passing, John Ive, Senior Vice President of Design, realized that users are getting comfortable with the web and the plethora of devices out there. Under his direction, the new iOS 7 has gone flat where previous versions of the interface meant to directly resemble their physical world counterparts. The Contact Book looked like a contact book, the Map looked like a map.

 
The Calendar and Settings icons are both a great example of skeuomorphic gone flat.

The Calendar and Settings icons are both a great example of skeuomorphic gone flat.

 

Consequently, designers everywhere are reducing, they’re streamlining, and reevaluating. They’re asking, “Does this help get the message across? Is this [element of the design] providing enough value?” and if the answer it no, its cut. This is not to say that flat design cannot be skeuomorphic in nature – it can still attempt to imitate things we’re more familiar with, but with a flat, uninterrupted aesthetic.

At Design4Change, we always endeavour to communicate a brand’s emotional message as efficiently as possible. With flat design, it almost feels as if we’re cheating – our target audience is being spoon-fed this message with little to no distraction. It’s just the right amount, just the right temperature, and meant just for them.

For more on Flat Design, check out some of our favourite resources:

All things flat design
Google’s flat style guide
Microsoft’s design ethos
Flat design for mobile