Google’s Logo Proves Delight Can Still Be Had With Flat Design
I’ve had a lot of strong feelings about flat design that emerged this decade. While a step in the right direction (e.g. utilizing words and images in a sterile layout to amplify the content), I believe there are some casualties from this path. One of them is soul.
Flat design aims to lessen the cognition necessary for our human brains to compute, interpret, understand, and feel the effects of design. In effect, this movement aims to make design invisible. While a good theory, much of our gradient/drop shadow/bevel past is riddled with nostalgia, narrative, and an analogy that fosters a deeper understanding of our digital experiences while relying on real-world understandings. A fantastic example is the original voice recorder on the iphone. This app looked like an old-school radio microphone. We no longer need that analogy to understand the experience. As the industry has entered into a broad new realm where digital experiences are de facto and more malleable, I can’t help but lament on flat design for one reason: it makes good design a formula.
With the destruction of skeumorphism, led mostly by Apple and UI designers, we are left with a canvas that is angular, colorful, concise, ergonomic, and just plain boring. Finding that “soul” to inject is not only difficult, but requires designers to grasp at straws to make interfaces more delightful. This is the reason many of our phone apps have delightful animations, that not only increase cognition, but do so in the hopes that the extra cognition will provide context and clarity.
Delight is a magical term in design. It is the right mix of cognition, energy, soul, context, content, and usefulness. Flat design makes delight more difficult to engineer and include, due in part to the contemporary thinning of our UI design patterns.
Now, onto Google. In my opinion, this logo has two very important things that make it delightful:
1. the first o is red.
2. the e is red and slightly rotated.
An otherwise geometric logo is made delightful through the purposeful increase in our cognition. The first o is a perfect circle; red and powerful and stable. The e is slightly rotated and cut at a unique angle. Because both characters are red, we immediately hone in on that relationship and our brain uses the assumption that things of similar colors are related. Once we build and establish that relationship, we immediately become aware of the e, and the gestalt is a nice balance of harmony, geometry, and delight.
It is purposeful and masterfully done, and proves that design soul has not been a casualty in our society’s desire for a more beautiful digital experience.
This is my day job and this might seem like navel-gazing. Yet, it is a massive industry that us, as users, not only dictate what we need, but also critique things that feel “off”. This is because we, the users, have formed a visual vocabulary that electronics, designed by humans, has taught us. This is why I got into design, to learn that code and to bring delight to interfaces.