When Flat Design Falls Flat

Nov 4 2013 by Rick Debus | 51 Comments

Flat design is the most popular trend in UI design right now.

Superficially, flat design is simple:

  1. Don’t use gradients, shadows and textures
  2. Use simple shapes, bold colors and clear typography

I believe that a few prominent flat designs sacrifice usability and best practices such as consistency for the sake of aesthetics — and this is what I’ll primarily be talking about. But first, I’d like to discuss flat design in a historical context.

Flat Design’s Origin

"A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Skeuomorphic Design

Flat design is a reaction to its predecessor, skeuomorphism.

Skeuomorphs are user interfaces designed to look like real-world objects.

For example, the UI below resembles how a real-world audio compressor looks and functions:

Source: Klaus Göttling

Skeuomorphs started in the 1980s as a way to ease people into computer interfaces.

Up until recently, Apple was skeuomorphism’s biggest champion, embracing the design philosophy in all of the company’s UIs and guidelines.

For instance, the old Apple Safari icon is instantly recognizable as a compass — it has shadows, gradients, and fine aesthetic details compared to its flat counterpart:

The Purpose of Flat Design

Flat design as a design approach strips away all the aesthetic frills, leaving behind only the essentials.

In a way, I see flat design as just another name for modernism, defined by a generation of UI designers who grew up with computers and have found skeuomorphism to be unnecessary.

No more gradients, drop shadows, and textures. Just beautiful typography, simple icons and shapes, vibrant colors to help establish visual hierarchies, and, most importantly, a deeper attentiveness on ease-of-use.

Flat design is driven by a desire for a more efficient and user-friendly interface.

That’s the idyllic purpose of flat design, but the current reality is so disconnected from it.

Issues with Flat Design

While there are plenty of great examples of flat design, there are also plenty of bad ones.

iOS 7′s UI Inconsistencies

Before the mobile operating system’s debut, rumors flew around: With new leadership from Jonathan Ive, iOS 7 was finally going to ditch skeuomorphic design and go flat.

And it did.

Take a look at the comparison below when iOS 7 was first announced:

Source: designmodo.com

Skeuomorphic elements are gone. No more highly-stylized icons and faux wood trim.

What’s wrong with iOS 7?

It’s inconsistent.

The icons look glaringly out-of-place, as if they were designed by different teams (and they probably were).

Some icons have gradients. Other icons don’t.

Of the icons that do have gradients, sometimes the gradients go in different directions:

Line thicknesses vary.

Symbolic representations of some icons are oversimplified and are sometimes meaningless. The Game Center icon, for example, is a group of colorful, glassy-looking circles:

What does the Game Center icon mean? How does it relate to gaming? If there was a symbolic meaning behind the icon, it’s too obscure for most people to know, thus making it a poor metaphor.

Other symbolic representations are overdone. The Newsstand icon, for example, is too complex and fine-detailed compared to its neighbors:

Consistency is crucial in creating a user-friendly design. Flat or not.

Usability Issues That Come From Being "Too Flat"

Okay, so no gradients, no textures, no drop shadows.

Keep things consistent.

And try to make it look modern.

That’s it? Piece of cake.

But there’s more to it than that.

Like any good UI, a good flat design should make usability the topmost priority.

Flat design aesthetics need to go hand-in-hand with usability. And if a decision had to be made between aesthetics and user-friendliness, the latter should be prioritized over the former.

Functionality has been neglected in some UIs that have adopted a flat design. Take Windows 8 for instance:

Source: mobiletechworld.com

Window 8′s UI is radically flat. Its brave use of bold colors and tiled Modern UI design are fresh, positive steps for the Windows brand.

But its main issue is usability.

With Windows 8, Microsoft tried to apply a tablet experience onto a desktop.

It didn’t work.

Window’s flat Modern UI (formerly known as Metro UI) is not intuitive for someone using a keyboard and mouse. According to Soluto’s Monthly Insights Report, between 44-60% of all Windows 8 users (desktop and tablet) are opting for the old interface over the Modern UI option.

Though flat design is supposed to make things easier, many people still find the old interface more user-friendly.

Jakob Nielsen ran usability tests on Windows 8 and noted several issues with its UI. The main issue Nielsen found was how the operating system’s flat design made it hard for users to know if things are clickable or not.

Source: nngroup.com

While the new Windows 8 icons are elegant and clean, they don’t appear actionable. Without a gradient, shadow, or just something that makes them distinctive, it’s hard to tell what’s clickable and what’s not.

Flat design can sometimes be so flat that it hurts usability.

If a user interface is "too flat", actionable elements can be lost in a sea of flat elements that all look the same.

There are even some concerns with iOS 7′s Control Center being "too flat":

Without any good visual hints, it’s not obvious which objects you can interface with.

Solution: Almost-Flat Design?

So how do you remedy issues with flat design? Almost-flat design.

Almost-flat design is an approach that chooses flatness only when it improves usability. It doesn’t categorically say or imply that gradients and drop shadows are evil.

Almost-flat design permits subtle shadows and gradients to create dimension, distinction, visual hierarchies, visual cues, and boundaries.

Gmail’s Almost-Flat Design

Clean and consistent, Gmail’s recent UI redesign is easy on the eyes. It’s clear that Google’s designers love flat design — they’ve been moving towards flatter and flatter UIs as of late.

Source: idownloadblog.com

However, hover your mouse over a button, and you’ll see the hover state has a slightly different color gradient as well as a useful tooltip:

These subtle aesthetic effects give users visual cues that the object is important and that it is actionable.

Users instantly recognize buttons in Gmail as clickable or tappable without the need for over-the-top embellishments ala skeuomorphism.

Crucial interface elements are easily accessible. There’s no need for twenty buttons to be visible at once because Gmail’s UI employs progressive disclosure intelligently:

The Future for Flat

Gmail’s interface is exactly what flat design is supposed to be:

  • User-friendly
  • Consistent
  • Clear

iOS 7′s and Windows 8′s versions of flat design often sacrifice usability and well-established design best practices for flatness.

To be fair, both Apple and Microsoft are listening to criticism.

Before iOS 7′s release, Apple addressed some usability issues such as updating the slide to unlock function with an arrow pointing to the right to gives users a better visual cue, and they have tweaked the color gradients for the Safari and Mail icons so the operating system’s app icons are more cohesive.

And Microsoft just released Windows 8.1 which will allow users to bypass the Modern UI interface entirely, going straight to the desktop version instead.

Ultimately, good design — whether it’s flat or not — should aim to address problems for its users through clear visual communication, efficient design, and user-friendliness.

Related Content

About the Author

Rick Debus is the founder and CEO of Signazon.com, a national e-commerce printing company based in Dallas, Texas. With over 15 years of web design and development experience, he’s passionate about bringing unique and innovative solutions to the Internet. Connect with him on Google+.

51 Comments

paquito1996

November 4th, 2013

Microsoft is doing it right. Apple and Google are following Microsoft trend in a wrong way.

Sandra Newton

November 4th, 2013

I’m generally not a big fan of modernist design so maybe I’m biased. It could be just bad implementation, but frankly a lot of flat design is just down-right boring.

Sunny

November 4th, 2013

Microsoft is doing it right. That is why you see a lot of websites following the same design. This has even led to Apple trying to do something different and adopting to a similar approach in their latest iOS7.

Avenirer

November 5th, 2013

Really good analysis. @paquito1996: you didn’t understood the essential part: the design must be made with the consistency and usability in mind. And the examples are not to attack a specific operating system (as you’ve probably read, Rick gave examples from many parts).

Webbyrå Göteborg

November 5th, 2013

For once I also think Microsoft is doing it right here. Also their GUI design in their development tool Visual Studio they have been going in this direction.

Shaggy

November 5th, 2013

So true, too many designers jumping on this trend because it’s apparently easy to design a flat UI. Just remove all the photoshop layer styles and you’re done.

iOS7 & Metro UI have 100% flat but they are also incomprehensible (iOS7) and taking design over function (Metro). Proof being that many still on iOS6 afraid to jump over and that Windows still offer a hide Metro UI.

‘Almost flat’ is my personal preference. I’m not saying Google is perfect but they have at least given the usability design the respect it deserves and not gone for the beauty shot.

Arbaz K

November 5th, 2013

I never really liked the flat design of Apple and it looked better before. However Microsoft has done a great job with the Windows 8 design and brought in great looking flat elements.
Thanks for sharing the post with us :)

Julia

November 5th, 2013

IOS 7 is horrible… Compared to any other product it’s intuitivness is “lost”. Google design is exactly the same as Microsoft Word, the really old version… The constant use of it created the brain conection to simplify design this much. But as things come and go, the flatness won’t last much longer.

JasonBPenn

November 5th, 2013

Flat design is how all ‘real’ designers have always operated, creating simple, conceptual. functional, aesthetic and meaning driven solutions. The world is populated with millions of amateurs who cant grasp this and play around with the technology, putting a drop shad and emboss on everything in sight. They can use the software but have no artistic and intellectual thinking to drive the design. Another large proportion of the world can’t tell the difference either. That is the plight of the ‘real’ designer in the 21st Century.

ovidiu

November 5th, 2013

What you have just described is bad design, regardless if it’s flat or not. IOS7 is an example of inconsistent flat design. And if it is done right there won’t be any sacrifices as far as UX is concerned. And of course a flat design style is not suitable for every project.

Mark

November 5th, 2013

Great article!

Sharon

November 5th, 2013

See, here I thought you were going to say that the need to click on someething (the underlined A) in the new Gmail design was a flaw (which it is–it requires an extra click that was unnecessary before) and that the idea of putting the Send button on the same line as the attachment button was a truly stupid idea (which it is–I’ve lost track of how often I’ve sent an email without the attachment(s) I’d meant to send). But you seem to think that this is “usable.” Feh.

Lester Dizon

November 5th, 2013

This is a great article for discussion as I have been thinking about the iOS 7 changes a lot recently. The inconsistencies drive me nuts too. Not that I’m a champion of flat design or anything but I do think this piece misses a couple of points in explaining the effectiveness of Google’s implementation of flat design. Color (gmail’s big blue button in a monochromatic field), tone (darkening of icons on hover), and font weight (unread email messages are in a bold fot) play a much larger role in the communicating interactivity than do slight gradients and minimal drop shadows. The change in state of the send button on hover is so minor I don’t think most users even see it.

What they do notice is a change in brightness of the button. That’s all you really need when the user hovers over an interactive element is a slight change of state logically located on the element or near the element (Fitt’s Law). In my opinion you really shouldn’t invest too much time in making that feedback too fancy because, as of right now anyway, there isn’t a hover state on touch interfaces.

So I think rather than trying to define an almost flat aesthetic, it’s more important to establish a clear communication of interactivity (contrast via color, boldness etc.) and then reinforce the user’s assumption that the element in question does indeed stand out because it is an interactive item by introducing a change state if they hover (when possible).

bob

November 5th, 2013

What blows my mind is that we have all these amazing screens with super high resolution and what becomes popular? Flat design with no detail or visual interest. Yawn. Can’t wait for this trend to pass. Thanks for the good write up.

Sutariya

November 5th, 2013

First, Very impressed from your deep knowledge on Designs @Rick Debus. And yes Gmail’s flat design, I just love it.

Future trends will be only FLAT Designs. Flat & Clear Look people loves most now a days :)

Agree with @paquito1996 too :)

Required

November 5th, 2013

“…designed to look like real-world objects”

This is a nonsensical differentiator as nearly all “flat” designs do this as well allbeit with less dimension.

Fredo

November 5th, 2013

You sure give a lot of wrong and biased examples… Does Google pay you for it or something?

Because iOS 6 icons weren’t consistant either, so it’s not a flat design problem. And Windows 8 buttons DO highlight when hovered, just like so-called semi-flat buttons in Gmail.

As much as I like Gmail new design and I accept iOS 7 and Windows 8 have some annoying flaws, it’s not fair to blame it on flat design at all.

Tim

November 5th, 2013

I have yet to see a responsive website that does not use flat design and does not look like every other responsive website.
Flat and responsive are boring.

Fabian

November 5th, 2013

I think everything is a wheel where trends are repeated. In the 90s it was flat, then discovered the shadows and all used them and now again we return to the flat.
I think Apple is doing well, although perhaps not the correct gradient and the color scheme is not correct. But Microsoft and Google are also going down that road but with slight differences for different

Doug

November 5th, 2013

Gmail is the design solution to everything?

For Microsoft, entrenched people will always prefer to use what they’re used to, no matter what the new design is.

iOS7 already is almost flat. Only Microsoft is totally flat. Many UI elements have shadows. Icons have gradients, and backgrounds are blurred/parrallaxed to add depth.

HeroWP

November 6th, 2013

Flat design is amazing. It’s also simple, clean and professional looking. I think it’s the future of web design. Cheers to all.

Pamela Erickson

November 6th, 2013

So glad you wrote this article and I feel like you’ve said it all! Referring to iOS 7, great design and great usability go hand in hand. To see inconsistent graphics and an interface that doesn’t seem to have been completely thought through is such an affront to great usability. I’m all for evolving design and keeping aesthetics fresh but the earlier interface worked perfectly. Why did it have to change in such a poor increment? I’ll stay tuned and hope that a new release will happen soon!

Arnold Kirschner

November 6th, 2013

Just to keep things simple because of my simple mind. The purpose of design be it an operating system, a toaster, an app or a MINI Cooper is to make it functional and, hopefully, intuitive to use, oh yes, even pretty. When you loose consistency, have a poorly designed layout and all that is associated with that, you make the “thing” more difficult for a user to use. That is bad work.

Too many time the term “cutting edge” is used to explain away bad design by insinuating that the critic is off base when the designer is the one who makes something unreadable or difficult to use or even ugly.

No one particular type or style of design works for everything. That’s impossible. To try and do that is just being lazy.

Philip

November 6th, 2013

Skeuomorphism’s intent was to bring familiarity of the old into the new. Ironically, the problem with some of the reinventions is that they are a complete departure from the old, established iconography. Flattening and simplifying is a perfectly good next step in design.

For the most part, I appreciate Apple’s simpler icons (with the caveats that the inconsistent styles *are* annoying). They are a quicker “read” than the shaded and modeled “skeuomorphs” that prededed them. The greatest failures, from a usability standpoint, come from a lack of continuity — such as the games icon.

We designers want to be creative, but sometimes too much creativity is the cause of poor UI’s. Icons should be a quick read that one can intuit easily.

For all its efforts to improve, Windows functional failing is that its UI changes too much with each new version.

One last note: It’s all good and well to observe that interfaceable objects are sometimes not self-evident in flat design, but the “hover” solution does not work with touch screen devices. It’s not an ideal solution for devices that are becoming more and more common, and reliance on such comes with its own host of issues.

Suzanne

November 6th, 2013

Flat design is more difficult to see on small smartphone screen.
Shadows and gradients and resulting depth will be very missed when I get my new iPhone. I have monocular vision and ios7 looks terrible to me.

davidicus

November 6th, 2013

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

Pradeep

November 7th, 2013

A very valid ‘consistency flaws’ brought to light in IOS 7 Flat graphics. Design has always been about achieving simplicity. It is also true that technology and trends have always offered a welcome change in its expression from time to time, and now we are back to the basics in design once again. Change always has its own special freshness.

Jay Rutherford

November 7th, 2013

I teach user-interface at the Bauhaus University and have been using iOS7 as a “not like this” example. Inconsistencies abound. What is flat, for example, about the parallax effect on the home screen? (and don’t someone tell me to turn it off — it’s that fact that it’s the default that bugs me.)
When I come back to reading my magazine from another app, my page zooms in as if from behind me. I miss the surround-sound swoosh that should go along with it. There are myriad other examples. Jony Ives is an excellent product designer, but he went beyond his capabilities with this. I’m not a big Gmail fan either, but “semi-flat” seems to be the future.

Byron

November 7th, 2013

Like many people here, I find flat pretty boring. Some extra character is brought in with the almost-flat stuff but I’m still not that impressed by it.

I agree about the parallels between flat design and modernism and, though I’m a fan of modernism, I still think a good balance is needed to bring some kind of visual interest to the things we browse. I just wonder, if flat design is the web equivalent of modernism, what will the coming web equivalent of post-modernism be?

Rita

November 7th, 2013

as a designer i just hate the new ios7 look. whatever style a designer works in can be beautiful. this new set of icons looks like a beginning design class assignment where each student did a different icon. the colors are obnoxious. that red hurts my eyes, esp against that blue. what is lacking is the elegance we have associated with apple in the past. and flat design must have some subtle cohesiveness to work. you can dress the
language up any way you want, but ugly is still ugly. how do i strip ios7 out?

David

November 7th, 2013

Why does everything have to be flat now?
Why did everything have to be skeumorphic before?
Why does it have to be one or the other?
I thought good design was about originality and freshness… not jumping on a bandwagon and rigidly adhering to it.
For what it’s worth I’m a designer with over 30 years in the business. Generally I prefer the clean modern look of flat design but, to me, it harks back to the “modern” design prevalent in the ’70s (as so many other things these days do).
Does this mean in 10, 20 or 30 years there’ll be a swing back to skeumorphism?

Aaron

November 7th, 2013

The issue of Windows 8′s usability with a mouse and keyboard is a contentious one indeed, but it has very little to do with the flat design it employs and I feel is largely irrelevant to the subject of this article.

The group of icons cited in the article, for example, highlight when hovered over by a mouse, so one would have to be extremely dense to even wonder if they are clickable or not.

Furthermore, the issue of mouse usability has more to do with the layout that prioritises finger input with oversized icons, rather than the flat nature of the UI design. If the desktop interface employed a completely flat design (and that fact that it doesn’t completely is a failure on Microsoft’s part to ensure consistency), it would still be just as usable as it is now because it is the density of the interface that makes it suited for mice and keyboards, not the visual style of the icons.

Where Microsoft really leads the pack in the push for flat design is their strong understanding of typography. If you look at Windows Phone for example, the interface is able to achieve truly flat design by virtue of eschewing borders altogether by employing varying weights and sizes of the same font to denote different categories/options/headers/sub-headers/etc. You see less of this in Windows 8 because the lack of borders is of more importance in small screens.

NeoKobe

November 8th, 2013

I love the flat design for the aesthetics but what happens with the ease os use and the ease of recognition? for example, the notes or the images icons in iOS7, you have to read the text to know what it is… I think that to be super radical isn’t a good option.

Greg

November 8th, 2013

Well written. I have always been amazed how out of touch with reality and the real world computer designers have been through the years. This is an article that should not even have to be written. Good design always speaks for itself. The fact that an organization as large as Microsoft can make such avoidable design blunders to please a trend, shows how form does not follow function in an effort to please geeks and freaks.

Alex

November 8th, 2013

Hoover states and tool tips don’t work on touch screen devices which make them a poor choice for designs that need to work on mobile and tablets – which should be most sites nowadays. Isn’t it better to make a button that looks interactive in the first place?

Brian

November 8th, 2013

Weak analysis. WAY TOO EASY on Microsoft and Apple. I predict in the near future we will look back on this as a huge blunder in interface design. I would have SKEWERED Apple and Microsoft! I think our collective brains are conned by thinking in the back of our minds that these two companies are so big and have been so successful they couldn’t possibly create a blunder of epic proportion in interface design and usability!

They could. The did!

Triple-whipple-YUCK!!!

Brian

P.S. Gmail’s design has sucked from the get-go but we put up with it. They’ve made minor tweeks to SLIGHTLY improve. So now the answer is instead of Google making a visually usable design Microsoft and Apple are going to lower their standards to match. I’ve stuck with Outlook for email because it’s been WAY BETTER than what Google handed us–until Office 2013. Augh!!!

***Running away screaming and pulling my hair***

:-)

Andrew Bailey

November 8th, 2013

Gmail’s UI is horrible.

It’s progressive disclosure is not needed, since there is already enough space present to display the icons, and it becomes a needless chore to divert your cursor to display them when you’re frequently using what’s hidden.

The compose experience (or whatever they call it) is odd, since to reply to an email, it doesn’t have that popup. If you need to look at other emails to compose, wouldn’t you likely be replying? it also has a tendency to cover important info.

And don’t even get me started on that grid menu that replaced the gray bar.

Tom

November 8th, 2013

There are 8 windows based computers near me at work and not a single one is using the Metro UI option. Everybody here thinks it is just plain hard to navigate through because of various reasons. IOS7 is a clean and modern design but I have problems finding links at times because it is hard to distinguish one icon from another at a glance.

Google doesn’t have all the answers either as their design aesthetic is so boring it lacks any imagination whatsoever. I remember reading about the designers behind GMail and how they worked on the project all the way up to the last moments before the public unveiling and one of the guys drew up the logo sometime in the middle of the night in just minutes.

Why does modern design need to look like something you would see come out of the department of transportation? When was the last time you looked at a traffic sign or a bathroom gender designation sign and thought to yourself “This is designs future”?

Flat design is easy to read and fine while I’m going 85 MPH past it on the freeway. It doesn’t belong on my high powered, high resolution screen on my smart phone or tablet. Some design theories should just be studied and only applied as an element of an overall design.

channarith

November 9th, 2013

iOS 7 IU is really great . I love its design.

Ivan Bayross

November 11th, 2013

Rick, I must say that this is an excellently written Blog post. You’ve expressed your opinions in language that is simple understand and jargon free.

The images you’ve embedded really help in delivering the appropriate visual that supports and helps make clear what you are talking about in the text.

Thank you for sharing and for preventing me adopting flat web design blindly for my websites.

I’m going to spend sometime re-thinking their design elements through using this content as a back drop.

Regards

Ivan Bayross

Dare

November 13th, 2013

Gmail’s flat design initiative is one factor that makes the user interface looks clean and easy to use.

Embracing a flat design strips off confusion and it disengage conflicting interests caused by mop up frills.

Good observation and nice write up.

Andy Rodgerson

November 14th, 2013

Flat design is something I hope to see the back of in a few years – with any luck it will be looked back on in an embarassing way like the 1980s muller

While cheesy graphics were clearly due an overhaul, as usual fashion has gone too far the other way. And as usual, everyone seems to have to follow a few trendsetters like mindless sheep.

Websites and Software look like they belong in Windows 1.0, all the lovely graphic processing power in your computer is wasted. PC programs feel like you just don’t want to use them, ugly remnants of a more attractive age.

Making 3D graphics more subtle, however, is much nicer. Firefox’s new logo is a good example of this – still with 3D shades, but subtle, less shiny hues.

I look forward to a UI of the future based on the “best of both worlds”, with tasteful smart buttons that work like the “good waiter” analogy – unintrusive when youy don’t want them, available immediately when you do.

Brade

November 18th, 2013

Good critique, but Google’s flat design is just as poor if it requires the user to hover over elements to tell what’s interactive and what isn’t. Especially because this paradigm is useless on mobile. Looks like each one of the “big 3″ needs to go back to the drawing board.

James George

November 20th, 2013

You hit the nail right on the head. Flat design is meant to simplify things. The problem is, you have to go about it the right way. You make excellent points here. Consistency is important, flat or not, and that actually lies true for everything that you do.

dar

November 24th, 2013

I hate how many have jumped on the flat bandwagon. And I have to disagree with some who say Microsoft did it right. What they did was create a very sterile, boring, easy-to-create interface that requires no design skill what-so-ever.
I suppose it’s the race to the bottom of design. Much like the the squareness of the style of architecture in the 1960′s and ’70s was considered new and cool and everyone jumped on it, when in reality it created very boring buildings nobody is interested in looking at.

Arianna

November 28th, 2013

Flat perceived as a great solution for many kinds of software? Apple has finally ditched the skeuomorphic look for its mobile apps. This approach was championed by Steve Jobs.
Apple comes to term with “less is more” attribute associated with flat and a much more toned down minimalist approach.

KRR, Finland

November 30th, 2013

Excellent article.
But in almost all of the comments people (mostly designers) seem to discuss whether they themselves like the flat design or not. But one point seems to be missing: All these designs (whether they are UIs of mobile phones, PCs, web sites, …) must be “sold” to ordinary consumers, and I think most people (including me) associate complexity with working hours, and working hours with money. So: complex design = lots of work = expensive, simple flat design = little work = cheap.
When I admire classic works of art, I tend to value the objects based on how much time I estimate the artist must have spent preparing that work of art. So if I look at a big painting with lots of tiny details, I add together the times I estimate would go to each detail, and then I think to myself: Even if I could paint that well, it would take me at least a year of full-time work to reproduce that. Therefore, a good work of art (of course, everything else in the painting has to be “right” in the painting, too). Or if I go to a medieval church, and there is an angel statue made of silver: One where the artist has taken the pains to make each individual hair of the eyebrows and every feather in the wings is way better than one where these details are missing.
And I think it’s not just me, most people do this, at least intuitively. Einstein said that any endeavor is 10 % inspiration, 90 % perspiration. Well, we cannot know the amount of inspiration, so we judge the perspiration part. The more complex the design, the more working hours it “contains”, the more expensive it seems. And this way of judging things works rather well for most of us, for most of the time. Just remember the proverb: If it looks like a duck… (replace duck with cheap). Now, the details can be subtle, but there must be details, otherwise the design seems simplistic and cheap.
So after this longish introduction, let’s discuss iOS6 vs. iOS7, especially the Safari icon, which was shown in the article. The Safari icon of iOS6 you could admire for minutes: look, there’s even the Americas in the compass background in faint colors! And if I try to estimate how long it would take me to reproduce that icon, if I had to do it myself, I think it would be more than a day’s work (and even then I probably couldn’t get it just right). On the other hand, the new iOS7 Safari icon looks like: Hey, I could put that one together in less than half an hour with Windows Paint… So think about this: more than a day vs. less than 30 mins. The feeling of premium quality is gone! So I think in the long run people are less willing to pay Apple’s premium prices, not that all the details are no longer premium.
I have expressed this opinion as an average consumer, I’m not a graphical designer. I am a programmer in my 50s, and the only design I’ve ever done have been user interfaces and toolbar icons for my own programs. But I have used computers for 30 years, and I know what I like. You designers seem to be young people, having lived your lives in graphical splendor. Well, I remember the simplicity of the computer UIs when there were no graphics coprocessors, and I don’t want go back! The net is full of jokes how Windows 8 looks like Windows 1.0.
To me you youngsters are like rich kids going slumming, and now you come back home all excited, saying that the real life is in slums, and everybody should move there. But the rest of us, who still remember the old, graphically poorer times, are not that excited… To us flat design looks like: Hey, I could draw that with a rectangle and one flood fill. Not worth much.
And for those who say that we don’t really need all that extra graphical detail: Well, most people in the Western world spend a large fraction of their income into things they really don’t need: If they can afford it, many people want to have their car with leather seats, even though the material of the car interior does not matter much if you only want to get from point A to point B…

Josh Ross

November 30th, 2013

I completely agree that Google is the one that seems to really be doing flat design right. It’s simplified but not overly so. Crazy how things come around.

Ryan Theis

December 3rd, 2013

I think flat design needs to definitely be consistent and be used in a minimalistic approach. There are to many instances of designers trying to mimic a big brands flat look only to mess up the whole concept by doing things sloppy or overdoing it.

Silvia

December 4th, 2013

Flat design is more difficult to see on small smartphone screen.
Shadows and gradients and resulting depth will be very missed when I get my new iPhone. I have monocular vision and ios7 looks terrible to me.

Robert

December 22nd, 2013

It’s funny to see Apple following Microsoft in (flat) design.
“The Times They Are a-Changin”.

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