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Web Design Trends: Flat Design

“Flat” web design is one of the fads that has overtaken the Internet lately. It’s almost a counter-culture phenomenon, the move away from half-page rotating Flash graphics and seven different navigation methods all compacting the content into a tiny portion of the screen.

What Is Flat Design?
Flat design relies on two key elements to separate itself from the crowd: exotic typography, and incredible, almost eye-bending color. The purpose is to simplify the interface so that the content takes first — and almost sole — priority to viewers just landing on the page.

That means, on the other hand, that flat design inherently lacks basically everything else. There are no drop-shadows, no hover effects, no beveled or embossed edges — nothing that could add the perception of depth to a page. That’s why they call it ‘flat’. Because there are no ‘layers’, every page element has to have a crisp, clear edge that separates it from the rest of the items on the page, and that’s usually accomplished by the use of the aforementioned eye-bending color. Furthermore, the aforementioned typography is generally the only element that’s allowed to span multiple elements — and even then, only when it’s the most important message on the page.

The last element of flat design, even though this doesn’t necessarily follow simply from the name, is minimalism. Flat design tends to show the user exactly what they need to see and almost nothing else at any given time.

The Advantages of Flat Design
The advantage of all of that simplicity is twofold. First of all, making your site intuitive to navigate and use and easy on the eye improves usability, which improves end user trust. If you’re asking them to hand over their credit card number, you want them to trust you — and flat UI, done well, can help them make that commitment.

Second, flat design forces you to rely on the actually important elements of page design — like hierarchy and content placement — to convey things like “This is the button we want you to press next”. It prevents you from making classic web design mistakes like ‘I can put the call to action over here on the side as long as I make it glitter and look like it’s hovering an inch above the page!’

The Disadvantages of Flat Design
The biggest disadvantages of flat design are inherent to the medium. First, because flat design doesn’t show you when a button is ‘popped up’ (aka active), it’s not always obvious what elements of a flat design are interactive. This can lead to some end-users leaving a site in frustration, not realizing that the big pink elephant in the corner isn’t just an icon, but also a button that would take them where they wanted to go.

Second, flat design tends to obscure ‘deeper’ functionality. In fact, one of the greatest complaints about Windows 8 — a flat UI if there ever was one — is that the flatness of the UI “Apple-ified” what was once a distinctly power-user-oriented OS.

Is Flat Design Right For Your Project?
I don’t know — why don’t you get in touch and we can work together to find out?

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