Flat Design is Evolving (Thankfully)

What’s New in Flat Design

Flat design is about three years old now, and there are signs that the interface is adding back in some of the visual cues that disappeared so abruptly in 2013.  The biggest problem, in my opinion, was lack of cues for the users action options:

  • Buttons no longer had depth to indicate where to push
  • Data entry fields no longer had boarders to indicate where something should be entered.
  • Lack of contrast.  When someone’s eyes are somewhere north of 40 (laugh now, youngsters, but your time is coming), even a marginal decrease in contract becomes a usability issue.

And if a substantial part of your audience is straining to see details of buttons or underlines, or visual cues that enhance usability, you have a problem. And this problem will reduce the friendliness of your business solution in FileMaker, or your website traffic in the internet world.

Prettier or less usable?

Other are picking up on the problems of Flat Design:

A colleague was kvetching about how annoying he finds the present flat-design of the meeting scheduling software’s interface. My first thought was, “Oh, but it’s really quite pretty… very modern looking”…

And it was followed immediately by my second thought: “Arrrgh, but there IS that one field I forget to fill out EVERY SINGLE TIME I set up a meeting, because I can’t see the field is there.”…

If things don’t have a visual indicator of editability or of clickability, or if the visual presentation doesn’t direct the eye immediately to the right locations, the design can fail in its primary purpose. (Spoiler: its primary purpose is NOT “look pretty.”)

Source: Pitfalls in Flat Design | Soliant Consulting

The future of flat

So I, for one, am relieved that the flat design is evolving, and trending away from, well, flat:

Recently, designers have begun to realize the usability issues of flat design. As a result, a more mature and balanced interpretation of flat design has emerged. Designers are finding they can be ‘authentically digital’ and explore the unique opportunities of the medium without compromising usability.

This is sometimes referred to as ‘semi flat,’ ‘almost flat,’ or ‘flat 2.0.’ This design style is mostly flat, but makes use of subtle shadows, highlights, and layers to create some depth in the UI.

Source:  Flat Design: Its Origins, Its Problems, and Why Flat 2.0 Is Better for Users

Many of the new techniques in Flat 2.o are subtle:

  • Shadowing
  • Layering
  • Highlighting
  • Increases in Contrast
Flat Design with higher contrast
A good example of increases in Contrast is this picture, which combines flat backgrounds with bright foreground objects.

Image credit: Takeit

Flat Design is here to stay (for now, at least)

Flat Design is more than just a flash in the pan:  It will be around for a while.  Fortunately, it’s evolving in the right direction:  better usability while keeping the elements that make it attractive.

So in your next project, keep usability in mind.  Make sure the eye flows where you want, and that actions items are easily seen.  Your users will appreciate it.

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