Have you heard? Flat design is in for 2013. Yep, all of you who just shelled out hundreds of dollars on a Skeuomorphic web design (i.e. not flat) are now riding yesterday’s trend. We’ve examined the dregs of coffee cups, poured over the entrails of chickens, flung ourselves on the mercy of the Elder Gods and all the signs are there: this is the year flat makes it big. For those of you still stuck in a three-dimensional funk, here is our indispensable guide to the coming era:
What on earth? I hear you cry, Windows did something right? Unbelievably, yes: this new ‘tile’ design beats Apple hands down. So long desktop, the future is here.
Google have always been at the forefront of design. When they updated their design to flat, most of us had no idea what was going on. But it paid off; many of us would never dream of going back to the old design.
Not be outdone by their rivals, Hotmail recently made the switch to ‘flat’, following on the heels of Gmail’s divisive shift. Simple, colourful and visually-pleasing, the new Hotmail follows flat’s principles of leaving ‘breathing space’. Whereas older designs might try and draw attention away from empty spaces, flat embraces them, making the white gaps a feature of the page.
When they took over, Google bought their new aesthetic to YouTube. Again, ‘space’ plays a huge role in the redesign; suddenly an Ad-Blocked version of the page doesn’t look so barren. It’s all part of Flat’s appeal.
Squarespace have outdone themselves in the ‘minimalist’ department. This screengrab is from one of the most considered parts of their homepage: achingly functional and directly informative, it smacks of a rebooted mid-20th century vision of the future. Here, nothing extraneous is added; yet it still somehow looks perfect.
The basic appeal of flat lies in its ability to appear straightforward and beautiful all at once. By taking advantage of the two-dimensional nature of any screen, it comes across as direct and honest; rather than a pitiful simulacrum of real life. It’s the old ‘functional’ argument; make a virtue of your purpose rather than disguising it behind baroque overkill. And it works. Compare the above with our selection of skeomorphic designs:
Notice how much ‘busier’ they are? While skeomorphic design has its bonuses, such as being able to form an immediate emotional connection with the user, it also feels clunkier. Especially when attempting to simulate a three-dimensional space. With the major websites all seemingly heading down the ‘flat’ route, we’re betting it’s not long until these designs become a thing of the past.
While flat design may seem like a wheeze dreamt up in an NYC studio flat, circa 2009, its roots are actually a lot older than that. Take a look at these pictures:
If you’re big on graphic design you probably recognise the style: Swiss Grid was an attempt to marry mathematics with a philosophy of design that eliminated ideas such as ‘art’ and elevated the designer to the level of ‘communicator’. It was simple, rationalistic, sought a harmony in geometric forms and attempted to impose ‘clarity and order’. Developed in the Postwar period, it still holds up today. Look at the ‘Beethoven’ pic above, and compare it to the Squarespace design we showcased earlier. While Squarespace’s contemporary design avoids geometric edges in favour of unthreatening circles, the two could almost be brothers. Rather than invent a new form, people like Layervault’s Allen Grishten (who may have coined the term ‘flat design’) have simply started applying old lessons to a new technology; with evident success.
So what does the future hold? Probably a lot of flat, white webpages. With the major players all embracing the old/new sheen of ‘flat’, expect most websites to shortly follow suit. Is 2013 the year we return to communicative, functional design? In a prophetic word: ‘yes’.
A lover of all things to do with design, Sophie is a blogger for London based printing company Print Express who specialise in booklets and business cards.
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