How Flat Design Will Reinvent Itself
Flat design has made its way to the mainstream. With big companies like Google flattening the UIs of their software, and major redesigns of operating systems by Apple and Microsoft, flat design looks like it’s here to stay.
Where is the flat design trend headed to? I will talk about some things I believe will change with the flat design trend.
Subtle Depth Effects
Designs that have gone "too flat" have some people alarmed because of the possible negative impacts on usability.
For instance, well-known web designer Paul Boag said this about flat design:
"Many websites and applications have so completely rejected skeuomorphism, that they now lack the visual cues that enable people to see at a glance what they are meant to do."
Distinguished usability researcher Jakob Nielsen has a much stronger sentiment about flat design. He says:
"The flat design threat is a fashionable trend that will hopefully subside before it hurts users (and companies) too much."
Another problem with the flat design trend is that user interfaces are becoming boring and dull. The trend, in my opinion, has led to websites becoming too similar to each other.
In an attempt to overcome the usability and aesthetic issues in too-flat designs, I’ve seen many designers turning to tried-and-true techniques such as drop shadows and gradients in the quest to add back some depth and clarity to their work.
One such approach is almost-flat design where some key design elements are treated with subtle drop shadows and gradients to improve usability, readability, and visual hierarchy.
One good example of almost-flat design is the Gmail iOS app:
The shadows and color gradients applied to the UI are less complex than what we used to use back in the days of the "Web 2.0" aesthetic:
The result of an almost-flat design is a sense of dimension, depth, pronounced clarity, better visual hierarchy and, ultimately, improved user-friendliness.
At the CES trade show this year, we saw many tech companies trying to revolutionize consumer electronic products.
One product of note is LG’s smart television, which has a user interface that embodies flat design aesthetics:
An interview with LG’s head of product management and design, Itai Vonshak, outlined one of the challenges his company faced with flat design. Vonshak says the difficulty with flat design is that "it gets very boring."
To innovate on the flat design concept, they added fluid, jelly-like animation transitions in the TV’s UI to give users visual cues that something is happening on the screen as they are interfacing with different commands. Check out the hands-on demo of the UI by The Verge to see the fluid animation in action.
As you can see from the video, LG has achieved a good balance between flat and flashy. The result is a UI that retains the simplicity and clarity of flat design with added excitement and usability improvements through fluid animation.
Thanks in part to iOS 7, flat design has gone mainstream. Simplicity and clarity through flat design wasn’t the only thing introduced in the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system.
Translucent foregrounds that let their backdrop seep through them create a beautiful, immersive experience for users.
Functionally, what translucent allows designers to do is the depiction of layering in a 2D medium, an alternative to techniques like drop shadows. Translucence is another way flat designs can incorporate subtle depth.
Line Icons/Outline Icons
The line/outline aesthetic for icons and illustrative elements make perfect sense when we look at the concepts flat design is espousing: simplicity and clarity.
Line icons allow us to craft shapes that are more defined, intricate, and clear while still being able to retain a minimalist and unobtrusive look-and-feel.
How Else Will Flat Design Change?
How will flat design evolve? What other trends in flat design are you noticing?
Share your thoughts and observations in the comments below!