I’ve grown to become quite opinionated about the recent Flat Design trend. Ironically at this time of writing my blog is using a rather flat design, however it still uses borders, dividers, and background colors which as you will see many flat designs ignore or drop.
Gripe with Flat Design
Microsoft chose grey on light grey on white with their new flat design in MS Office 2013. This is very hard on the eyes and makes finding sections / ideas in the UI take a bit of studying to understand. I won’t even go into Windows 8 start screen or new desktop UI which both have other issues. Apple in iOS7 appears to be choosing border-less white divs with section breaks just being a larger padding between items. There is little to no affordance.
If these are the leaders, I’m concerned.
Some are using Flat Design well
However, in my opinion some companies are pulling off flat design well. For instance AVG 2013, they chose very intuitive layout that makes the UI simple and understandable, I don’t use the product, but I would trust my grandma to run it. Other fine examples are the games OLO, Letterpress – check them out.
Some companies are going for a Almost Flat Design, which I can agree is a good compromise, making things a bit more intuitive and have substance. Examples include LinkedIn app, Google products, Facebook. And now with Google announcing Material Design that becomes even more clear.
What I’m saying?
It’s not about emulating the ‘real world’ as it is giving items a sense of sections, and layers. First sections, A menu bar or sidebar ought to look separate from the content. More specifically, static vs. dynamic content ought to be separate. Second layers, if a menu has a drop down that is going to cover content, there ought to be (even a subtle) hint/shadow that is is currently above the content and has a border to visually show its identity. Users will intuitively know there is content under it and not mistake it being part of the content. And not to say ‘Real world’ is what I’m suggesting, if I were then I would want SPST Push Button or NTE 54-533 Switch Rocker.
Where are we heading?
I could dig in further with some closer examples, but I feel User Experience seems unfortunately been placed on the side in many flat design cases. It seems we are in a UI counter-culture mood swing from our overdose on 3D buttons, and huge drop shadows. I get it. We just have to be careful to consider usability, intuitiveness, learnability, human errors, and other UX items. Maybe it is just poor flat design that I’m not a fan of or haven’t given it a full chance, but I’m concerned.
Thankfully with Google talking about Material Design, perhaps we can start to head in a smarter direction.