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The Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Flat Design For Websites and Graphics

Web designers have traditionally aimed to show off their skills through creating websites that, while somewhat user-friendly, were incredibly complicated. Much of this included flashy animations and an abundance of features that were aimed to wow a visitor.

In the past few years, however, this has become much less common, with many designers tending toward flat design. While there were a few web design philosophies between these two extremities, flat design looks set to stay for a considerable amount of time.

Despite this, many designers may not know much about the design philosophy, as well as how they can take advantage of it. There are quite a few ways that you’ll be able to benefit from the trend, although it also has a few drawbacks.

As such, it’s worth taking an in-depth look into what flat design is and what sets it apart from many of the other philosophies that some designers may follow.

What Is Flat Design?

This is a minimalistic approach to website design and graphic design that places the majority of emphasis on usability, with this typically including crisp edges and clean, open spaces. Usually used alongside this are bright colors and two-dimensional illustrations.

This is in contrast to many previous approaches, which focused on creating realistic representations of real-life objects. As such, flat design creates a clear separation between tactile objects and technology.

The majority of this focuses on user-friendliness, with typically being a secondary concern during the design process. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the style of the approach doesn’t matter; instead, the look and feel of the website or interface is used to further its ease of use.

Principles Of Flat Design

There are a variety of underlying principles that guide flat design, with the most prominent being to ensure that the interface is as usable as possible. However, there are a few principles that help to guide this and ensure that the overall website is as effective as possible.

The first of these is not to embellish and eschew the use of effects that add any depth. Some of the more notable aspects here are gradients, drop shadows, embossing, and even bevels. Nothing is added to any of the website’s elements to make them appear more realistic, with crisp and clean a priority

Alongside this is a focus on typography, which may be the most important aspect of flat design. The guiding principle here is to keep the design of the text simple and readable, which will then flow well with the rest of the user interface.

While color plays a vital role in every approach to design, it’s much more of a guiding principle here. Much of this is because flat design typically has a much brighter color palette than others. Vibrancy is a core aspect here, as the approach usually has much more of this aspect, as well as a variety of more colors.

Minimalism is perhaps the most significant principle that guides flat design and has often been its defining feature. Simple color and the avoidance of too many realistic features will only take this so far. As a result, this minimalism should extend to the use of photos and other aspects, with these being as simple as possible in both content and placement.

History Of Flat Design

Despite becoming popular over the past few years, flat design has been around for much longer than you believe, although not necessarily in conjunction with web design. In contrast, the philosophy has its roots in a Swiss-style known as International Typographic Style.

Though this drew criticism in the 1920s, it began receiving attention in the 1940s and 1950s and quickly became a graphic design standard. The movement toward this design was driven by Josef Müller-Brockmann, who was employed at the Zurich School of Arts and Krafts, as well as Armin Hofmann, who was a representative of the Basel School of Design.

However, for much of this early history, flat design’s use was mainly limited to certain graphic design circles, although it was first limited to Switzerland. In the years that followed, it started to become more commonly used in various countries, which helped to kickstart its overall popularity.

During this time, web design was also becoming increasingly more popular, although there wasn’t much of an overlap between the two for several years. While some circles used the philosophy, it only started to become common from 2010 onwards, thanks to the popularity of iPhones and various other pieces of technology and websites.

Benefits Of Flat Design

Flat design has quite a considerable number of benefits, with the majority of these being seen by the reader or end viewer. These can be seen regardless of the medium that it’s presented in, such as print media and online advertising. As such, there are a variety of advantages to using it.

The first of these is that the design is much more readable when compared to other styles. This further enhances the overall usability of a website, which is also driven by how easy it can be to navigate a website or app that uses this philosophy.

The majority of websites and apps that take a flat design approach tend to be much more intuitive and responsive than those done with another style. As such, the user-friendliness here is much better than with realism and a variety of other philosophies.

While this is evident on a desktop screen, it’s much more apparent when it comes to mobile devices, which can often have a problem with more realistic designs. Because of that, flat design is a much more mobile-friendly way to create an app or website.

The benefits of flat design aren’t just seen by the end-users, however, as there can also be a few for developers and designers. Much of this is driven by the fact that it can often take much less time to create a website or design with this approach. Alongside this is the fact that it provides much less of a strain on the digital load.

Drawbacks Of Flat Design

While there are a considerable number of benefits to flat design, there are also a few drawbacks. While the approach is geared toward usability, it can often not be as user-friendly as many people might believe.

The primary reason for this is because there can often be a lack of cues for where a user can click on a link. Alongside this is the color scheme, which can often be difficult to determine and implement effective, with much of this being due to the emphasis on vibrant colors.

Lastly is the over-reliance on typography in flat design. While this doesn’t have to be an issue for many designers, weak typography can often be much easier to notice. As such, there can be quite a significant amount of time and effort needed to ensure that the typography is up to par.

Failure to do so could result in the overall design of the app or website coming across as much lower-quality.

10 Tips On Creating Flat Design Graphics

Those of us who are new to flat design may have difficulty with the process despite how simple the end result may be. Since the approach has been around for so long, however, there are a variety of tips and tricks that you should be able to take advantage of when doing so.

Some of the more notable of these include:

  1. Consider using speciality typography alongside a sans serif. It should be noted, however, that this should be used sparingly.
  2. Focus on precision while creating your designs.
  3. The use of geometric shapes can be quite helpful in the design.
  4. When using geometric shapes, you could consider adding an outline to them to help them pop out much more and add some contrast.
  5. If you’re using shadows in the design, consider creating long ones, as these help to keep the look consistent.
  6. Speaking of shade, using cut shadows can be much more effective in flat design than many others.
  7. Aim to use multiple layers when creating your design, as this can help to make it pop.
  8. Know what the more important aspects of your design will be and focus on making these stand out.
  9. While the avoidance of extra effects is recommended, the right use of glow in the right ways can help with the overall design. This is especially true when used in conjunction with shadow.
  10. Despite the many limitations that flat design may have, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get creative, so feel free to get creative.

Best Practices For Flat Design

There are a variety of best practices that you’ll need to adhere to so that you can effectively use flat design. The first of these is what’s called ‘invisible design,’ which is the term used to describe implementing design decisions that the majority of users wouldn’t notice.

Doing so ensures that your users are fully immersed in the website or app while allowing the website to be easily understood and navigated. As such, you should aim to remove any unnecessary design elements and ensure that the overall site or app has an adequate flow.

Vibrant colors also tend to be one of the more commonly followed practices here, as this helps to set the feel of a website and allows certain areas to stand out much more than others. Having a certain amount of white space to bounce this against is also highly recommended.

The New Flat Design: Flat 2.0

Flat 2.0 has become increasingly popular as of late, although many people may be unsure as to how this is different from its predecessor. While there is an extensive number of similarities, there are a few key differences between them.

Much of this is driven by the fact that Flat 2.0 blends flat design with a variety of other approaches. As a result, there are a few features included in this approach that typically wouldn’t be included in its predecessor.

These include the addition of highlights, drop shadows, gradients, and a few other notable aspects. Much of this is the result of users demanding more from a website or app than flat design may allow. As such, the inclusion of these techniques is geared toward user-friendliness.

Flat Design Alternatives

Outside of Flat 2.0, many people may wonder whether there are any alternatives to flat design. Perhaps some of the most notable of these include skeuomorphic, realism, 3D and material design.

Many people may often become confused between material, skeuomorphic, and realism, as the three share many of the same features. However, there are a few important distinctions here, as both realism and 3D design use realistic features in a range of different ways.

This is either done to be as realistic as possible or to give the illusion of realism. A skeuomorphic style, however, keeps things simple while alluding to the real-life inspiration for the design. One of the more notable aspects of this is the Kindle’s bookshelf.

5 Statistics Of Flat Design

There are quite a significant number of statistics that have highlighted how much of an impact flat design is having on the web development and overall design world. Some of the more notable of these include:

  1. The majority of designers, 68%, believe that flat design is here to stay.
  2. Only 27% of designers are unsure about the development of flat design, while 9% believe it may not last long.
  3. Flat design has proven itself to be one of the leading design trends on the market.
  4. Flat design has primarily become common in operating systems such as Windows 8.
  5. Despite growing in popularity, the approach is being replaced by flat 2.0, although this is a somewhat slow shift.

Flat design is here to stay, with much of this being driven by the benefits that it offers, as well as how versatile the approach can be. As such, taking the time to ensure that a designer has mastered the area can provide a variety of advantages for the majority of creative professionals.

Thanks for reading "The Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Flat Design For Websites and Graphics", by the Linchpin Team in Chicago, Raleigh, and Wake Forest.

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