With the much talked about iOS 7 update from Apple, it’s clearer now more than ever that flat design is just what the user ordered. Gone are the days of extensive drop shadow, 3D graphics and most definitely flash animation. Flat is replacing the skeuomorphism approach which recently has been tarnished due to overuse.
Skeuomorphism is basically manipulating elements to make them look like what they represent. So button links should actually look like buttons and folders should look like real folders to give the user clues as to how they should interact with the elements. As the users become more familiar with the web, graphics like these will be less and less necessary, thus why a flat design can be so effective. Flat allows the content to speak for itself a little more.
What does it mean to be flat?
At its core, flat web design is a 2-dimensional style. There is little to no drop shadow effects or 3D rendering. Sections of websites are usually divided by a simple color change rather than an extensive transition. Look at Topsy’s homepagefor example. The menu bar and call-to-action are set apart by simple differences in color. This contrast is actually more effective than a 3D pop-out because the user can assess the page as a whole and quickly identify where he or she is supposed to focus.
Now, just because you’re using 2D shapes doesn’t mean there can’t exist some depth on your website. Take this icon set for example. It’s composed of 2D shapes but gives the allusion of 3D shadows and depth (oh you’ve gotta have that depth!).
What’s The Next Web Design Trend?
Danish Ali Mughal had an insightful guess as to where web design will travel next. He proposed that websites will start to be more content-focused rather than extremely design centric. He cites Medium as a great example with graphics that are used sparingly to allow the user to focus on the content of the site rather than design. Design can be overdone and ultimately distract from the real purpose of the site.
Form Should Still Follow Function
Although flat design is pretty and the “new thing” it doesn’t mean that it’s for everyone. When redesigning or creating your website, you should not start by deciding which “style” you’re going to use.
Think about your target audience first and foremost.
What design elements do you need for them to understand or purchase more of what you’re selling? Flat works for a lot of trendy new products and especially big corporations like Microsoft and Apple who need to look fresh every year and appeal to a massive audience, but if you’re a small family law firm in Chicago with a limited and niche clientele, you will probably be more successful with a traditional looking website with familiar cues that inform users how to interact with your site.
Always think about your users first and the design will follow.