Over the past several months there’s been this massive debate over skeuomorphic vs flat design. I’ve followed it extensively and read many solid points for and against both. I’m not pitching in on that debate because I’d like to point out that it’s over. It’s clear where the industry is going. Great! Now I’m interested in discussing why it’s a step forward.
I thought about this and realized the biggest advantage this era of design brings is an opportunity to expand our approach towards design. Flat design, in a way, is fully embracing the less is more ideology so it forces us to think about leveraging other principles of design to truly make our work stand out. Many would argue that this trend makes designing easier while I’d argue that it’s made our job ridiculously more challenging. I’d also argue it’s not a trend, it’s an evolutionary step in design.
Over the weekend I worked on a little mobile app at AngelHack with some fellow 500 founders. As I jumped into design, I found myself caring less about button effects and a whole lot more about interaction. How it works? What the user experience is? How can I leverage animations and transitions to compliment an otherwise simple design? How do I pull all these facets of design together so users will be wowed?
I’ve always thought about these aspects of design but this time it was different. I felt less pressured worrying about all the visuals and more time thinking about leveraging great interaction. It’s not a matter of focusing on one over the other but rather thinking deeply on how to leverage both instead of just relying on visuals. There’s going to be more pressure on designers to get not just the visuals right but to bring together everything perfectly to tell a whole story. Getting it ALL right is what will make a design stand out, not just how it looks.
In the Skeuomorphic era, we obsessed about how light bounces of metal, whether the wood grain is accurate and if the button looked like candy. In this era of ‘flat’ design we’re compelled to consider not just visual design but explore other mediums of design like sounds and animations for example.
Don’t get me wrong, a beautiful design is still very important to suggesting quality and creating brand. However, this era goes further by introducing new elements of design into the mix that we’re only beginning to explore in product design.
Take for example, Thinglist, a simple and elegant app where the extent of visuals is in its iconography. Using the app is a joy clearly because the user flow is so well done but beyond that, alot has to do with its animations. It’s cleverly implemented and adds to the beauty of the app. This is what I mean – the whole story.
Another great example is in Dots. Have you played this game? It’s yet another elegant and brutally simple game that is, quite honestly, highly addictive. So what works here? The sound design. The experience of playing Dots without the sound effects is vastly different than with it. I get bored easily and leave if I try to play it on mute.
I think a combination of animations and sound effects is where a lot of the magic happens. Another key element that’s addictive is the phone vibrating when you hit an achievement.It feels good just like when I get a killshot in an Xbox game and the controller vibrates. All these elements combined makes for a brilliant design. The key point here is that it has a lot less to do with the visuals and more with its use of other design elements.
Deeply thoughtful design is a great advantage for our industry because as it is right now designers seem locked into how it looks. Even now I see work shared with the title “flat design mobile app” which suggests it’s viewed as another visual trend. It’s not.
In essence, the flat era of design has narrowed the constraints but surprisingly expanded our approach towards design. Skeuomorphic design was not a trend, it was necessary for technology to be adopted. Now that it is, flat design is another necessary step that will faciliate exploration of new design techniques that will take the industry to new heights.