An Introduction to Flat Design

An Introduction to Flat Design
  • SumoMe

Look at every design blog, industry website, newsletter and other publications, and you’ll see one phrase come up again and again- flat design. But what is flat design? Read on, and we’ll show you what flat design is and what it means for designs in 2014.

What is flat design?

Flat design is basically a design that is purely digital in function and look. To really understand what that means, you should know about its design opposite: skeuomorphism. Skeuomorphism is the practice of designing digital user interfaces or other design elements that reference physical technology, materials and items. The calculator on your old computer, with its specific keyboard layout and shading to create a 3D effect on the buttons, is a classic example of skeuomorphism.

Skeuomorphism comes from a good place. When PCs were brand new, it was used to make digital programs and websites feel more familiar by referencing things we know and love from the real world. People could instantly understand how to use a computer’s calculator when it looked like the real calculator they already had.

But as society has become more comfortable with technology, designers began to ask why we needed digital notebooks that had ‘bindings’ and were ‘ruled’ at all, when they didn’t have the limitations that physical notebooks had. They decided to instead create digital designs that didn’t reference the real world at all. With that, flat design, as a philosophy that valued near-limitless digital capabilities over our collective love of the past, was born.

What is flat design

Still, flat design didn’t really begin to replace skeuomorphism until smartphones – and eventually tablets – became commonplace. Skeuomorphic design elements began to be a design liability. They took forever to load, couldn’t scale and simply weren’t that easy to see on the smaller screens. As more and more users began accessing websites with mobiles and tablets, designers scrapped their “realistic” designs and replaced them with more responsive flat designs.

Flat Design

Today, we think of flat design as more modern. After all, we’re not holding on to things of the past. We’re pushing our tech forward. Technology doesn’t just make the things we were doing faster or more convenient. It’s giving us entirely new things to do. Having a calculator that looks like the device on your office desk doesn’t make sense anymore, given new digital calculators can do advanced scientific calculations, save calculations that can be looked up later and even calculate maths problems that involve text.


So what will flat design look like in 2014?

other way, contrasting the simplicity of flat design with colour palettes that seem to make use of the whole rainbow.

Second, there will be less text on a page. Flat design seems to be synonymous with boxes and icons right now, so many designers are creating sites that have little or no text, instead using icons and pictures to suggest what users should do.

Third, stunning photography will become ever more important. Just because we’re no longer enamoured with skeuomorphism, doesn’t mean we don’t want any of the real world creeping into our tech. Instead, designers are using gorgeous, high-definition photography to give their work the emotional pull that flat design can sometimes lack.

Flat Google

With that, you should understand what flat design is, how it has come to prominence and what it will look like in 2014. So all you have to do now is keep an eye out for great examples, study them carefully and figure what makes the design work.

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Libby French

Libby French

Libby French is the director for Her favorite part of her job is working along side her talented team. In her spare time, Libby enjoys keeping up to date with tech and design trends.
Libby French

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  • tropolite

    Interesting that this article discusses flat design and not even display the flat design of Windows Phone – one that actually won an award for the UI design. Just saying.