Skeumorphism. That gave you a chill down your spine, didn’t it? We definitely heard this term in the last few years, especially with the cheesy lined paper that we saw within our iPhones with its previous iOSes. Skeumorphism dates back to the early 1980s. In 1984, Apple had introduced their first consumer GUI, where “folders” were manila folders and “trash” was represented by a trash icon. Contrary to popular belief, Skeumorphism was not a trend; it was a learning tool for those who were unfamiliar with computer interfaces. However, as personal computers are now becoming much more ubiquitous, users do not need to rely on the visual metaphors to understand the different functionalities.
Then in comes flat design. The term “flat design” has garnered more attention in the last year since Apple’s shift from its overly realistic UI to iOS7. Flat design can still be skeumorphic. For example, the layout of the calculator in iOS7 is still a calculator (yet flat), but does not require the realism (i.e.beveled buttons) to get the idea across to the user. Flat design embraces visual minimalism, eschewing extreme usage of beveled edges, textures, shadows, and gradients, and opting for more of a simplistic look with a focus on UI elements, typography, and color.
Flat design certainly supports the notion of “less is more,” and in turn focuses on user experience. Designers are now returning to the Bauhaus-era basic fundamentals of “form follows function”. Flat design strips away all the ornamental elements and visual noise that are deemed unnecessary, focusing on the content instead. Instead of being fixated on whether or not the shadow on a box is realistic enough, designers can focus their time and effort on the usability of the product. We can even incorporate other elements, such as visceral interactions, animations, sound, and vibrations to create a more interesting and engaging experience. Some may assume that flat design is easy. However, it definitely is not! Designers must spatially arrange elements appropriately, to use color and typography thoughtfully, and create a strong experience while keeping it simple. When using flat design, be sure to have a user-centric perspective as well to ensure a unified and holistic experience.