CX Insights

Flat Design was just a Trend, Apparently

4 min read

There is no doubting Flat design is the current darling of the design world. Flat, simple patterns provide a clean and fresh look. Minimalist designs perfectly adapted to the surge in mobile usage. Even a company like Apple, a longtime supporter of skeuomorphic design, has joined their contemporaries in the design switch up.

Flat design burst onto the scene in late 2012, heralding a new era for design. Windows proved the vanguard for these new principles. Implementing their Metro interface first on Xbox and Zune, before unveiling Flat to the world with Windows 8. The Windows shake up carried with it plenty of controversies, yet Flat Design has only grown from strength to strength.

Flat Design: Trend or Revolution?

In early 2013, just as Flat was hitting full steam, my fellow blogger Sabina Idler posed an interesting question to you. Flat Design: Trend or Revolution?

This proved a matter of fierce debate. In one camp, we had those that felt this was merely a trend, a natural stepping stone in design and the next step in design’s slow evolution. Convinced that a few years down the road, we’d have moved onto something else.

The other camp was convinced of a revolution in the design world, where Flat design had turned the tables, ushering in a new design era of basic shapes and pastel colours. These revolutionists saw Flat design as a change akin to Web 2.0. A whole new movement towards new technologies and ways of thinking. A whole upheaval of ideas.

With the debate raging around it, we made a subtle addition to the article – adding a Usabilla Live Campaign. A small poll to count these Trendsetters and Revolutionaries by asking them whether they thought Flat Design was a Trend or a Revolution?

Over the past year and half we’ve had readers continually contributing to this poll and providing us with their opinion. The answer? Surprising.

Is the Revolution over? It seems so.

The fierce debate was obvious when the article first launched. The camps split 50/50. As interest wanes however, we see a drop off in the Revolutionaries. Those that thought of Flat Design as the dawn of a new era, have been supplanted by those that see it as nothing but a fleeting fad.

The opinion of Flat Design appears to have reached a conclusion.

Flat Design is a Trend

Before Flat design we had skeuomorphism; before skeuomorphism we had Flash; and before that still we had Text-based sites.

From Art Deco, to Pop Art, history shows us that design trends merely ebb and flow – from one into another. Once bored of one style, we move to a new one. Is this the case of Flat Design? It is what the people appear to believe.

Google’s insistence on Material Design certainly proves that a “next best thing” is on its way. Recent promotion of Material Design may even explain the trend shown in the above graph. Designers sure that Flat is on its way out as they move to incorporate Google’s own design guidelines. Material Design supplanting Flat as the next design trend.

But how different is Flat from Material Design really?

Flat vs Material Design

The object of Material Design is simply to incorporate Skeuomorphism into Flat Design. Everyday objects and interactions, which we are familiar with in the real world, are thrown into the sleek minimalism and mobile-friendliness of Flat. This creates an intuitive and device-friendly design style, convenient for both the machine and user. The best of both worlds.

I actually wrote an article about this “Skeuominimalism” back in December, before Material Design had its official name. Here we see how, despite presumed dead, Skeuomorph is actually more ingrained than ever before.

Flat Design, the subtle revolution

Flat design, like it or not, has been a revolution. Material design is the proof of this. People convinced that Flat is no longer a revolution are proof of this (however mad that sounds).

When Web 2.0 appeared, web pages moved from static pieces of content interweaved with Flash; to moldable, movable, and interactive canvases. It was a revolution. The platform for change. A platform that allowed us to use responsive designs and parallax scrolls.

In this same vein, Flat Design provides a platform. Flat design forms a base for us to build upon. A code that ensures our designs look amazing on Desktop, Tablet and Mobile. Flat Design heralded in the Mobile Web Revolution.

The Mobile Web has been the revolution, Flat its vehicle. For the past 2 years, the focus has been on mobile-first design. A focus I admittedly detest. Flat is the embodiment of this. A sleek and minimal style which allows us to reduce the resource load on smaller devices, allows us to utilise maximum screen real-estate and provide ample space for touch interactions. Flat Design provides us with a framework onto which we can build.
Material Design may well be the next trend, but its foundations were firmly laid by its predecessor.

Oliver McGough
Passionate UX Designer and Marketer.