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E-commerce Link : The Rise of Flat Design

Will going flat with site designs for Web and mobile work for you?

September 2013 By Steve Johnson
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With the recent unveiling of iOS7, Apple appears to be taking a bold move away from its previous interface design aesthetic. The new OS abandons the traditionally skeuomorphic look and feel in favor of a distinctively flat design.

Microsoft has been forwarding flat design in its Xbox 360 dashboards, the Windows 8 OS and even in the recent conversion of Hotmail to Outlook.

Google also has been moving to a similar interface style with its Android OS and Web-based applications. Apple's move to a flat design means the trend is continuing and still growing. But what is flat design and what does it mean for usability?

Skeuomorphic and Flat Design
Skeuomorphic design is when an interface emulates 3D objects. This emulation can happen very subtly through the use of drop shadows, bevels and gradients. Or it can be very overt, like Apple's Notes app where the entire interface resembles a notepad. The thought behind this type of design is if you present users with a familiar design from real life, they will be better able to understand how to interact with it.

There are problems with this idea, though. The digital world doesn't actually work like the real world. In the Notes app, because information is typed onto the screen, why do there need to be lines on the interface? These visual metaphors can become a distraction for the user and take up valuable screen real estate.

Flat designs take a distinctively more minimalist approach to how content and functionality are presented. Rather then using visual metaphors and embellishment, these designs rely on foundational elements like shape, color and typography to convey meaning.

As a minimalist style, any unnecessary design elements are avoided. This means layouts are often simple and uncluttered; only the most important or relevant content and functionality is presented to the user. Designers will often make heavy use of iconography for functional elements or navigation. This condenses information into a visually appealing form, which allows designers to place more functionality on the screen without the visual noise.

Because flat designs attempt to remove any extraneous design elements, what is left on the page grows in importance. Shape, color and typography often take center stage. The shapes of things like buttons or icons typically tend toward simple geometric shapes like rectangles, squares and circles. Sometimes corners are rounded, but bevels and gradients are often missing. In its purest form, even drop shadows are missing from flat designs; however, they are sometimes used to provide more visual interest or prominence.

 

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