It’s currently the “end of the season sale” time at most shopping malls and online stores. And while I was recently busy filling my shopping basket and flattening my purse of funds, I couldn’t help notice a trend throughout fashion: simpler design patterns, less texture, with brighter colors. Mainstream design has gone flat.
Microsoft took the first step in bringing flattened design to the masses with the release of their Zune digital media system, the UI abiding by the typography-centric, Metro design philosophy. Apple followed suit later, launching their own refreshed and flattened digital interface with iOS 7 with equal parts fanfare and derision, alongside Google with their still evolving Material Design guidelines for Android.
Flat Design continues to gain attention and adoption, especially in terms of UI design. Although I was a fan of Steve Jobs, I have to admit I stayed with the old skeuomorphic system as long as I could, and it was only when I finally had to upgrade my iOS device that I eventually became a convert to flat design’s benefits.
Partially derived from Minimalism, flat design has obvious advantages when compared to its predecessor, Skeuomorphism. Instead of attempting to mimic real objects and textures, flat design shrinks information down to its most basic and recognizable components, all the while still conveying a clear message and/or function in an abstract form. To bring more vitality to this pared down design language, flat design elements are often featured with bright colors. Together, this explains flat design’s popularity in UI design, since flat iconography and typography delivers information efficiently in an era when the average person is overexposed to a relentless amount of visual information.
However, I had heard about “flat” design even earlier. The same concept was used by landscape architect, Peter Walker, who utilized flat design for the Ground Zero National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Ground Zero’s horizontal plane magnifies the absence of the Twin Towers, an abstract and poetic approach operating by subtraction and flatness. In essence, flat design as used in this landscape solution is devised to provide an infinite void, a receptacle where memories can inhabit conceptually.
Flat design might continue trending in fashion, graphics, and UI, but will it be able to transverse into architecture and landscape design? Is “Flat” the new “black”? We will see…