Flat design is a distinctive style of web design that uses flatness and simplicity as the main defining features. Elegant and attractive it relies on the basic appeal of typography, soft colours, use of simple non-skeuomorphic icons and intelligent layout of features. A modern look for the modern web and perfect for the cross over between mobile and desktop as the web moves into its third decade.
It does away with many of the styling elements that were the hallmarks of the previous rich design age, such as shadows, gradients, embossed detail, bevels, deep texturing in order to create a simple yet intense 2D UI (user interface). The emphasis is put on the overall content of each page rather than individual elements of it making for a more holistic approach.
For the last few years, web designers have been designing for mobile users as well as desktop users, flat design fits this new age. The reduced complexity allows sites to load more quickly and improves navigation and usability plus it works well with responsive sites that change layout depending on the screen size. Simplicity is at the heart of the design concept along with efficiency and for web designers both of these factors are treasured in an ever more complex web environment.
Another reason is that with people choosing to use their mobiles to go online whilst on the move – walking or crammed onto a train or bus – the designs that work best when accessed via mobile are the simple ones. White space, clear instructions, easy to see calls to action with big icons are what people need and all of these are standard for flat design.
Microsoft were the first big company to embrace flat design when in 2006 they released their Zune music player and then following this the Windows 7 phone in 2007. Their Windows 8 operating system was characterized by the use of sans serif typography and the iconic square structural colored blocks. Although nearly ten years old now it still looks modern. This user interface known as Metro for both of these took a flat approach and kicked off the movement as we know it now.
The next major landmark in the journey for flat design came in 2013 when Apple updated their iOS for the iPhone in the autumn of that year and overnight completely changed their skeumorphically designed iPhone icons to flat versions. Gone were the perfect 3D replicas of a compass for the Safari browser and the waste paper bin for the trash bin and in their place were the now familiar flat alternatives.
2013 was the year that along with Apple’s dropping of the skeuomorphic icons flat design became the talk of the web design world. Three years down the line and its still going strong all be it with subtle changes and developments. There is no consensus amongst the web design community but it would seem that for as long as the web needs fast loading, easily navigable sites that are user friendly no matter how large your screen is then flat or some future version of it will stick around.