I’m about to apply a mute filter to the word “flat” on Twitter. That or start unfollowing a lot of people.
There’s an aesthetic “trend” that’s been around for a while. It involves fewer gradients and textures and has thus been described as “flat” design. It’s often described as the opposite of “skeuomorphism,” (which is an equally irritating word when used in this way.) It was popularised by Windows Metro and, being an aesthetic associated with fewer images, and thus better performance and more flexibility in the development of interfaces, has been a feature of many designs in both apps and on the web.
Design described as an aesthetic summary
Aesthetics are just one facet of design. Something may be pretty, but a horrible user experience. Something may be pretty, but completely inappropriate for the audience or the business. Every decision made in the process of creating a product is by design. There is so much complexity to design, and to judge an interactive design purely on an aesthetic basis is simply superficial.
Trends are fine, and inevitable. Designers are inspired by each other, particularly the more effective solutions to common problems, and consequently some work ends up looking much like other work. However, to dismiss work that is aesthetically similar as part of a trend is often insulting to the role of a designer.
Yes, many (charlatan) designers will simply reapply an aesthetic to the content they’ve been given and call it “design” without questioning whether it’s appropriate for the content or easy to use in its behaviour. But true designers do not just assign aesthetic styles to content.
There will be a decision and a reason behind choosing that aesthetic. It will be used as a design language to communicate to the user how to interact with the product. It will be affected by, and have implications for, the use of the product and the build process. A million tiny decisions will have been made to come to that aesthetic conclusion.
And I’m sure that decisions made by 99.99% of designers will not have been “I’ll use the flat design trend.”
This post was inspired by the many people on Twitter criticising Apple for “following the flat design trend” (and the many variants on that comment) with their iOS7 interface design. I’m trying not to be snotty when I say this, but I’m reserving judgement until I’ve had a device running iOS7 in my hands for a few days.
Aral wrote a very good post on “Design is not veneer” which explores this topic in more depth and is well-worth a read.