Flat Design was just a Trend, Apparently
Customer-Centricity | Industry Savvy

Flat Design was just a Trend, Apparently

on / by Oliver McGough

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.

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Article by

Oliver McGough

Passionate UX Designer and Marketer.

Share your thoughts

  • Steve G

    It has not been a revolution. It’s been a trend. Trends come and go. As people get more familiar with using software as a whole, things may look more subtle. But, you can only go so subtle and you have to pull back when your product becomes unusable. Three dimensional may become a trend when the tech becomes available, and then we pull back from that when people get sick of it. You said it yourself, design trends ebb and flow. Touch, has been a revolution not flat design. Many of those designs proved unusable by anyone not designing them and had to have cues put back in. Most people don’t really care that much how awesome it looks especially if they can’t figure out your app or website. You still get a few seconds and if it’s hard to figure out customers will leave never to return.

  • I think revolution is too strong a word.

    No one with their head on straight would deny that flat design was a pervasive and powerful development in design, but it needs more than wide attention to be a revolution.

    Flat design didn’t overthrow skeuomorphism. It beat it up a little, it distracted people from it for a while, but skeuomorphism hasn’t died. If anything, material design is proof that flat design *wasn’t* a revolution, because it’s making the case that we lost something when the pendulum swung too far into flatland.

    I don’t like flat design, so I might be biased in my evaluation, but I’d describe flat design as a very influential development in the arc of design’s history, but not a revolution. It hasn’t changed everything – but it has caused change.

  • hinsolite

    Btw Windows Phone launch metro in 2011… Then go on xbox, then Windows 8, then Google copy it for Google play/market.

  • I think Flat Design is here to stay as a framework, while skeuomorphism will stay around in iconography and games. The modular nature of the web is more effective when pieces are pulled together in a flat-design sort of manner.

    But no, I don’t think skeuomorphism is dead. Nor do I think Flat Design is just a trend.

  • jose

    Flat design is a sad solution to mobile’s technical limitations.

    The mouse is more precise than someone’s fat, greasy fingers. So you need ample surfaces for people to put their dirty fingers on.

    Mobile screens are tiny. So you cannot chuck a lot of detail there. You need simple surfaces that can be clearly distinguished, plus there is simply not enough room for detail.

    Mobile data contracts are puny. This also affects detail. You don’t want to make your visitors run out of bandwidth by downloading detail.

    That’s why flat works better. People who sing the virtues of flat on its own treat users like they’re morons who can’t handle detail. The truth is the reasons for flat are exclusively practical. Workarounds for technical limitations. Microsoft misunderstood this and that’s why Windows 8.0 was badly received and they had to fix it.

  • iDroid0

    Material still looks butt ugly

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