Is Flat Design Falling Flat With Users?

It’s no secret to anyone who has worked with me that I’m not a huge fan of flat design. It’s not that I don’t like the look of the design itself, but more that the clean lines and lack of depth makes it significantly more difficult for users to get where they want to go as they navigate a website or app. And since I’m a UX researcher, user-friendly design is kind of important to me.

Flat design is everything modern: sleek, simple, and minimalist.

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It usually sports low-contrasting color palettes that are easy to look at, and clean Sans Serif fonts. It’s not flashy, and it doesn’t typically boast a lot of web bling; instead it focuses on color, content, and shape, and it’s usually beautiful. Flat design also translates amazingly well to mobile platforms, which is a big plus.

However.

Flat design decreases efficiency, which is a major pet peeve of mine. It slows people down, and that’s never a good thing in web world. Customers have a tough time determining what’s clickable, which trips them up, and there’s not typically proper feedback to let someone know if they’ve clicked on a working section.

This causes users to rely on context clues, like “add to cart” or “buy now,” rather than looking for a button. Flat design also makes it difficult to identify logical groupings of “cards,” and screens can look unfinished or undesigned entirely. Basically, it throws affordances right out the window.

did-i-do-that

Yes. Yes, you did.

Ironically, the entire flat design trend is rooted in minimalism. Its focus is on removing junk from interfaces in order to limit distractions and help people complete their goals more efficiently, but often it actually results in a slower, more ambiguous process for the user. This leads designers to scratch their heads and ask the age-old question:

Don’t get me wrong — I love organization. I’m a big fan of things falling into a clear and effective hierarchy. The problem is that flat design blows visual hierarchy out of the water because you can’t tell what’s most important on a page. This makes it incredibly difficult to see and understand the relationships between items on a screen. I’m not a 100% Debby Downer, though, guys.

Even with all of my concerns, I can honestly tell you to take heart! There’s hope, and it comes in the form of Flat 2.0.

NOT-AS-FLAT IS THE NEW FLAT

Flat Icons 2.0 - via Web Designer Depot

Flat Icons 2.0 – via Web Designer Depot

Flat 2.0 is a more mature, user-friendly version of the original flat design trend, and it’s taking the industry by storm. It enhances Flat 1.0 by adding back some of the subtle shadows and definition that were previously eliminated. As more and more people shine a light on flat-design related usability issues, designers are (thankfully) taking control and making more informed design decisions, while still pushing to keep the streamlined, low-distraction, clean interfaces of yesteryear in place.

I’m excited to watch Flat 2.0 evolve and become even more in-tune with consumers, and I’m crossing my fingers that skeuomorphism doesn’t rear it’s oddly-realistic head again. As designers, we would do well to remember that trendy design is fleeting.

Let’s get back to focusing on what’s useful, and consider design with the user in mind. Because, if we’re honest, it’s really all about the user, isn’t it? And you know what they say… a happy user makes a happy life (and wallet).