Why Flat Design?

Why is flat design so popular? How did this come about and why did it catch on? In the age of social media anyone is a commentator and thus everyone has a theory and a soapbox from which to proclaim it. The amount of speculation and unsupported attribution is astounding. Many theories are to be found by anyone looking for answers.

To begin with, let us dismiss some of the easier targets, the theories put forth by people partaking of the ever popular “It must be so because I think it so” method. Theory: Graphic designers are busy – flat design is faster i.e. easier. This idea is nearly beneath comment. It is the kind of nonsense espoused by people who have little experience in the day-to-day world of getting professional work done. The fact of the matter is that the more fluff and ornamentation one has to work with, and the more external justification one can bring to bear on any work of art, infos-live the less scrutiny the real questions about choices and layout receive. A historical example will well illustrate this. We may like or dislike the David Carson / Raygun aesthetic (it is certainly outdated), but it will be immediately recognized to anyone who has worked in this style, that the irreverence is liberating. Impose a grid or golden mean based critique on such a work and what do you get? One finds few if any answers. The appeal of this and similar styles is the energy of the unrestrained creative process apparent in the finished work. While ‘harder vs. easier’ is a slippery slope we don’t want to venture upon, it is not reckless to go as far as saying that in any sort of art production, that irreverence is ‘easier’ than accuracy. Accurate attempts can be critiqued in terms of finite success, but abstraction and experimentation need to be critiqued in a less finite way.

Exceptionally simple styles must adhere to some guidelines to have power. The starkness puts the subtle relationships of colors in the palette out front; their success or failure cannot hide behind gradients, drop shadows and skeuomorphic faux-realism let alone the irreverent layouts and juxtapositions. Rhythm and balance are there, but they follow the rules they have adopted. To design well in a more conservative and functional style, a designer must pay exceptional attention to grids, guides, and proportions, as well as type choices, kerning, and color balance, or the design will display an awkwardness that is unsettled and lacking in gravity or stability. A designer working with fewer elements both on the micro level – no gradients or outlines or shadows, and the macro level – fewer items on the screen and more negative space, .thermn is forced to consider the details of each far more closely. The skeuomorph justifies itself – the button appears to be an actual button. It is the easy way out. This could not be more true than it is in the age of design kits; collections of ready made faux-real interface elements ready for drag-and-drop designers to do with what they will. The result has a built in appeal of polish and professionalism, and the client can see that it looks like what it is (supposed to be).

Theory: Flat designs represent smaller data footprints significant enough to affect performance. One may hope that the designers asserting this are not the same ones building the enormous and overburdened sites with superfluous decoration (chrome), animation, and flash architecture. Such sites are most unhappy landings for impatient Internet visitors. Performance is actually driven far more substantially by network traffic and calls to external content and links, as well as client side processing. A quick comparison between the file sizes of highly stylized assets and simple ones will reveal little difference, and the ability to draw them on the client side is trivial. Simply put, the size, bandwidth, and performance aspects of flat vs. complex design assets are a non-issue. The advent of CSS 3 and client side (Java / Postscript style page definition) may be partly responsible for introducing the look, but it is spurious to suggest that the differences in performance are anything other than trivial. bantal togel

What is really driving this trend? A couple of possibilities are apparent. People who work in UI and UX these days are familiar with the concept of wireframing – creating a mockup of the interaction design in a clickable prototype. These wireframes are sometimes crude, though often highly finished, but in either case they show: button here, menu there, etc. In short, they can easily be construed to be specifying a page or screen layout whether this is the intent or not. This interaction design may inadvertently step on the toes of the visual design. This can become an issue given another paradigm well known to commercial artists: The consensus. As professionals within an organization or with clients, we perform a continuous tightrope act, navigating between the ideal artists vision / progressive and/or elegant solution, and the clients or stakeholders (sometimes provincial) tastes. This is a process and this process lives and breathes on proposal / review / iteration. With respect to this process and wireframes, this can lead to the ‘coloring-in’ of an interaction design (including its layout) with little aesthetic input from the visual designer. This is easily understood with some typical and all to often heard quotes from clients such as, “Is this what the final is going to look like? and “Why did it change? I liked it how it was”. One can see how this type of client might easily get ‘stuck’ on a wireframe and insist that it be colored-in without any ‘self indulgent’ visual designers making it any more complex than in need be. Before this devolves to become a facetious and humorous cartoon, the author will interject that he has been (more than once) in the exact same situation: e.g. the client wants the rough he got attached to, to be colored-in without changes, wallamag and then proceeds to choose the colors. Did wireframing facilitate movement in the direction of flat design? It may have. The process described here certainly has happened many times over has resulted in flat interfaces, which if nothing else, contributed to the momentum in this direction. The proliferation of devices (screen sizes) and the resulting need for responsive designs surely has created a situation where flat designs scalability advantages are important. One only needs to search for ‘responsive icons’ to get into the complexity of the problem of pixel based icons on multiple screen sizes. SVG is a useful format to address this yet it is not without its disadvantages. Along comes the very simple, easily scalable flat design and our responsive needs become much less complex.

Another factor is certainly a contributor as well: The Pendulum. Styles change. The pendulum swings with such regularity that one may fairly reliably predict that a change is coming even though they might not be able to predict what that change may be. The timing and content of the swings is often generational, ~25-year cycles are common. Nowhere is this more apparent than in music. A theory has been put forth, that states that the music one parents were listening to when they were young and in love and procreating, aniioki has a profound nostalgic effect on people as they come of age and begin having similar thoughts, goals, and feelings. Numerous musical styles can be heard to echo throughout time as they get re-embraced and re-invented by young people redicovering the sounds of their parents time. Soul to Rap to House shows an echoing line back to Motown, and though this line is continuous, the popularity of certain elements and approaches does follow the generational echo. We can hear classic rock in grunge, and by the echoing theory, we are poised to hear this return again. 80’s sounds were popular in the 2000’s. The same happens in art, though this author is not aware of a time based or generational theory, it is clear that innovation happens, becomes passé, is replaced by a new approach, and is eventually reincarnated in a varied form as the new. This could not be more apparent than it is in the current flat design trend. In fact there is a wealth of fantastic work from the 1960’s that stands as an example of highly crafted and sophisticated flat design. The similarity to what is current is so powerful that this work seems poised as if waiting to be copied, ready as examples for any young designer without adequate training or insight to know what to do when presented with the expectation to produce a contemporary flat design.


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