Design trends come and go, and some designs have a longer shelf life than others. Creating a “timeless” feel is something many designers strive to achieve, but technology can have an impact on design, due to differences in display sizes, color rendering, font standards, and more. Designers must conform to these new standards while still maintaining a classic look and ensuring effective functionality.
One trend to have emerged in the past few years is something called “flat design,” which has been adopted to an increasing extent by design-oriented companies like Apple in the iPhone and Google via Android. Car companies like Chevy and Audi have also hopped aboard the flat design bandwagon, as well.
Before the Flat trend came about, companies like Apple frequently used design language called “skeuomorphism,” which endeavored to make a digital tool look like its real-life counterpart. The Newsstand App and Apple’s iOS 5-6 operating systems are good examples of skeuormorphic design at its best (or worst, depending on your point-of-view). The skeuomorph phase gave way to a more 3D look, which used drop-shadows, gloss, and depth of field to further suggest “real” looking objects. The problem with the skeuomorphic trend was that it over-complicated designs and quickly became overused and unnecessary (why does a digital phone have to look like a phone from the 1980s, and why does every button need to have a sheen?).
It was in the process of questioning the need for skeuomorphs that flat design was born. The focus on flat design came about largely due to concerns about usability and functionality, versus a focus on realism and artificially glossy textures. Flat design is centered on an understanding that user’s minds don’t require complex visuals to understand what they’re looking at, and that they’re capable of recognizing shapes and associating meaning to those shapes with minimal cues.
By understanding better how real humans interact with digital tools representations, designers can remove elements that provide little or no improvement in usability, and instead focus on functionality and the user experience. And at the same time, flat design puts less of a burden on graphics resources, and allows modern design frameworks like “responsive design” to be even easier to implement. Design trends will no doubt continue to ebb and flow, particularly with ever-present digital technologies at our fingertips. But flat design, with its focus on the user experience versus design for design sake, seems poised to stand the test of time.