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What is Flat Design?

In 2013 a new trend emerged; the flat design. Even though it has been around for some time, it wasn’t until Microsoft adapted this style to their Windows 8 interface that it truly became a dominant trend in the design world.

windows 8 flat design
The Windows 8 interface is a great example of Flat Design

Flat design is what it sounds like. The graphics are flat without any beveled edges, drop shadows or smooth gradients. Instead, the idea is simplicity and functionality without any added distractions; less is more. Before the rise of flat design we, the designers, were trying to fit real life into a tiny computer. Graphics were designed to look as realistic as they could be; with intricate details and literal meanings. This trend is called skeumorphism. Apple has long been a skeumorphism advocate, but their product interfaces have recently switched over to a more flat design. They still have realistic design in some places though. If you own an iPhone, you probably know that the notes app is designed to look like a piece of paper with handwriting on it; this is skeumorphism. It’s not really a pen and paper, but since that’s what we use in real life for note taking, the note app should represent this digitally – or should it?

iOS 7 flat design weather

iOS 7 flat design clock
Examples of Apple’s iPhone interface before and after their implementation of flat design.


Personally, I love the flat design trend. The idea of digital design which is stripped down and focused on functionality and simplicity sounds way more appealing to me than an overly decorated, trying-to-be-realistic design with extra bells and whistles, often in the shape of a bell and whistle too! I bet some of you think it’s boring, that it’s too simple, too empty and too 2D. But when it’s done right, it’s beautiful and gets the message across much quicker.

Some characteristics of flat design are bright, vibrant colors, sans serif, and icons, lots of icons in 2D, not 3D. The use of an icon instead of a line of text is better since we can just as easily understand the icon as the text, but the icon takes half the time to “read.” We all know by now that the icon which has an envelope on it means “email,” there’s no longer a need to spell it out. This is the idea flat design stems from. We’ve all gotten so used to the digital world, and digital design for that matter, there’s no longer a need to add extra explanations or bells and whistles to design elements, people are just as able to understand the intent without them.

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