“Is simplicity best or simply the easiest?” – Martin L. Gore, Depeche Mode. You have most likely noticed that Apple has embraced the current minimalist and FLAT design trend with their current iOS 7 release. Does this mean that the days of drop shadows, gradients, embossing, object depth, design details, illustrations, 3 dimensional objects, and all graphic design / web design elements that actually take some time and skill to create with your design software of choice (Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop) coupled with some creativity and talent have passed?
Now that this article has started on a seemingly negative note towards the flat design trend, it is now time to note that I do like the style very much, but do not think that it will continue to rule the world of graphic design and web design forever. Nothing lasts forever – as we have seen with the rustic, organic grunge trend and the oh-so glossy and glassy “Web 2.0” style that ruled the design community and internet for quite some time in the not so distant past.
The reason why icons, buttons and interfaces were once predominantly created to draw attention and stand out or pop out of the page is because the computer users were not used to interacting with their computers or devices; therefore, they needed to be “shown the way” with very obvious distinctions between static text content and graphics and the “clickable” or “touchable” hyperlinks and interactive buttons and graphics.
Now that iPad, iPhone SmartPhone, and Tablet users are more comfortable with interacting with content, there is less of a requirement for smashing them over the head with fool proof interfaces for dummies. Also, consumers are inundated with information, and the minimalist, clean, flat interfaces allow for a more calming and straight forward avenue to content. Basically, the public is getting very familiar with interacting with website and application content so the training wheels have been removed (for now).
There is also something that is referred to as “Skeuomorphic Design” that is incorporated into the icons and design elements of flat interfaces. Skeuomorphic design is when modern computer and device oriented graphics use “Old School” familiar objects in order to communicate what they are representing. An example would be the iBooks application using a wooden, realistic looking books shelf to represent the placeholder for your iBooks and PDF documents, or a paper envelope indicating email, etc. Some people are familiar with these real life objects, and find it comforting to relate the new technology to the past. This style of design falls short when new generations see a cassette tape or CD (for example) representing a music application such as iTunes. Perhaps they have never had to deal with these almost ancient technologies, and the communication technique would backfire.
All in all, designs and trends come and go for various aesthetic and functional reasons, but I will try to embrace the flat design trend as it seems to be more of an evolutionary / functional style that is adapting to these times of communication and content overload, while still working with depth and creative design elements at the same time. Now this does not mean that all designs, interfaces and information architecture (IA) has to be completely flat. You can still have some originality out there, and there is a happy medium or middle ground when it comes to both the more detailed in-depth design styles, and the flat minimalist design style. Perhaps the middle path is the goal in this case (yet again).