Pros and Cons of Flat Design

There’s not denying that flat design is the big thing in design these days.

It’s everywhere. And not just flat design, but now with almost flat design as well.

SEE ALSO: Websites Featuring Flat Illustrations – Best Examples

The arguments about the validity and application of the style are raging. The super-trendy design style elicits an opinion from almost everyone. So let’s take a step back and look at both sides of the issue and some pros and cons of flat design.

Pro: Flat Design is Trendy

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Flat design is very trendy , but how long will it last?

If you are an on-trend designer this is the time to jump on the flat design ship if you have not already. Projects using the style – and using it well – are getting a ton of recognition from blogs, including this one, that can help you promote your design.

And it’s a lot of fun to design with the times.

Con: It’s Trendy

On the flip side of the trend equation is that you never know how long a trend will last.

Already we are beginning to see more of a move from purely flat design to almost flat design or flat design using long shadows.

If you reinvent your website or app frequently, trendy design may be for you. If you want a website that has a long shelf life, consider something a little less “in the moment.”

Pro: Simple Mobile Interface

Wiselist

Tasky

One of the best applications for flat design really is in simple mobile design.

Some of the most impressive flat interfaces and designs are for mobile apps that function simply. Big bold buttons are east to tap on mobile devices, eliminating the need for zooming to find links.

Con: Usability Concerns

When it comes to more complex user experiences, flat design can sometimes, well, fall flat.

Not all users are comfortable with the style of interface and don’t always know what and were to click or tap.

An analysis by the Norman Nielsen Group found that flat design styles can hinder usability because users don’t always know what is clickable. Further, flat design projects tend to include less “information density” in an effort to keep it simple.

Pro: Bright Color Sets a Mood

Flat UI Colors

Stuart

Maybe it’s just me but flat design just seems happy. All the bright, bold color is engaging and sets a tone of engagement and positivity.

Flat UI Colors, a website designed to showcase and help designers create and use flat colors, is a great mood-booster.

Take a look at the hues, they are all warm and inviting. Even the darker colors are based in warmer tones.

Because flat design often includes a lot of color, that increases the positive associations. Who ever looked at a rainbow and called it sad?

Con: Color Palettes Can be Tough to Match

The more colors you use in a project, the tougher it can be to match them properly.

Creating a harmonious color palette is a challenge on its own, and can be even more challenging when you add four, five or more colors. Designers who create the most successful flat color palettes tend to stick to a uniform look in terms of saturation and brightness so color choices look intentional.

Pro: Focus on Great Typography

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tvl

 

One of the great things about flat design is the true focus on beautiful type.

With no decoration, typography really has blossomed in flat design projects. From beautiful decorative lettering to simple sans serifs, great type is one of the key components to a great flat design outline.

And personally, drop shadows on type kind of ruin great lettering. The sharp contrast between interesting typefaces and bold color is impressive and refreshing.

Con: Weak Typography Becomes More Obvious

Just as flat design helps create a focus on good typography, it can really make bad typography stand out as well. (Just look at all the flack Apple received after previewing iOS 7 with an ultra-thin primary typeface, a design decision that has since been revised.)

Flat design is very unforgiving when it comes to boldness. Every choice has some degree of drama, making it hard to hide less-than-ideal typography.

If you are not comfortable pairing or selecting fonts, flat design may not be the best option for you.

Pro: Visuals are Sharp and Clean

Hundreds

Butterfly

 The nature of flat design is sharp and clean. That’s one of the features that makes it beautiful.

The style uses a lot of high-contrast features including color, type and an overall boldness that make lines clean and easy to follow. Buttons and other user interface elements are often design using basic geometric shapes with shapes, although basic rounding may also be used for some corners or edges.

Con: It Can Look Too Simple

Depending on the use, flat design has been called “too simple” by some.

It can be difficult to convey a complicated visual message in flat design.

The other argument against flat design is the simplicity of user-interface tools. Proponents of skeuomorphic design say embellishments that add a sense of realism make tools easy to use. Frankly, it depends on the context.

Visual hierarchy can also be a concern with super-simple interface designs. What is most important? How do you emphasis it visually?

Pro: Flat Design Discourages Boredom Decoration

vtcreative

Bark

There’s nothing worse than looking at a design and knowing the designer was bored with the project.

The tell-tale signs include too many shadows, odd animations or just a smattering of random effects that don’t seem to have a place.

Because of the simple nature of flat design, constraints help keep designers “honest” if they want to complete a project in the true nature of the style.

Con: Some Decoration Can be Good

Not all decoration is bad.

Flat design truly limits the number of tricks you can use if you want the project to be truly flat.

Conclusion

No design outlines is perfect. Tailor your design for each project so that the look matches the feel and tone of the message.

Design is about more than how something looks. It is also about usability and function. Good design is easy to use.

Are there pros and cons to flat design not mentioned here? Discuss in the comments.

Carrie Cousins has more than 10 years experience in the communications industry, including writing for print and online publications, and design and editing. You can connect with her on Twitter @carriecousins and Google+.

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28 Comments
  1. TimMH Aug 20, 2:28 pm

    Very good article, as mentioned Flat design is a trend and as you know a design trend will come and go. Personally I like the flat look to an extent, but I doubt I would want to stay flat all the time. It should be about what fits with your brand rather than trying to blend in with everyone else… Be Indiviual and don’t follow the crowd, otherwise how can you stand out etc…

    Reply
    +8
  2. Ciprian Aug 20, 3:01 pm

    You even haven’t mentioned the Windows Phone and Windows 8 UI: THE FIRST that used a flat design, not Apple!!

    Reply
    +20
    • Amit Aug 20, 6:45 pm

      It doesn’t matter if Microsoft innovates, it’s only when Apple does it, it gets noticed. That’s the world the designers live in and that’s what feeds their knowledge.

      Reply
      -4
      • aaron Aug 20, 10:10 pm

        Not entirely true- microsoft got lots of attention and acclaim for their flat design this past year. It especially stood out as the complete opposite of what apple does with their skeuomorphic design.

        Reply
        +4
  3. Ciprian Aug 20, 6:54 pm

    Have you said that Apple has innovated? Please, don’t make me laugh! I call it “ctrl + c, ctrl + v “

    Reply
    +6
    • Amit Aug 20, 7:06 pm

      Everyone does Ctrl + C, Ctrl + V, Google, Microsoft, Apple, its how innovation works. You take an idea which inspires you and you try to make it better.

      The other side of it is sometimes its just a blatant copy to cash in to the trend.

      What I was trying to say was the designers mostly live in the Apple world, so if Microsoft started the flat design innovation with windows phone and it slowly caught on to Android and now iOS, the design world will take notice because that’s what they are mostly exposed to without caring much where it actually came from.

      Reply
      +4
    • JustinZA Nov 14, 10:58 am

      Copy/Paste is grows the web exponentially.

      Copy. Innovate. Repeat.

      Reply
      -1
  4. shuo Aug 20, 7:39 pm

    Great article! to me, flat design is a great excuse to eliminate those inner shadows, outer shadows, etc. :D

    Reply
    +2
  5. Roy Condrey Aug 20, 9:31 pm

    Great Article. I really like flat design and use it. But I think, like you said int eh article, it is important to use what works for the project you are doing. Making sure you are good at flat design is just adding another weapon to your arsenal so that you can work even more beautiful designs for a wider variety of customers.

    Reply
    +6
  6. ted curran Aug 20, 10:19 pm

    Agreeing with Roy, I think Flat Design is a great challenge to designers who reflexively add shadows, gradients, and images but there’s no need to be a zealot about it.

    The article doesn’t mention that Flat Design is really a response to the computing conditions we find around us. We are designing for multiple sizes of devices with HD displays and capped data plans– OF COURSE we want to send as few images down the pipes if we can accomplish a great effect with text, CSS, and icon fonts!

    On my current project, I looked at my existing design again through a Flat Design lens and it helped me brighten, simplify, and increase both the usability and attractiveness of the interface. I left one shadow in for added emphasis on the MOST IMPORTANT part of the design but focused elsewhere on letting color, text, and icons communicate the bulk of the information.

    Some day soon this trend will be over and we’ll all be looking at our work through some other lens. Instead of looking at Flat as a new bandwagon that everyone should jump on– try to understand what functional problems this approach solves and see if they can add value to your work.

    Reply
    +7
  7. Duffman Aug 20, 10:49 pm

    I find quite funny people saying apple didn’t innovate when they are the one that created the whole mobility market.

    It’s a lot bigger than two squares as a UI…

    Not to say that flat didn’t come from Microsoft, but from the web.

    Reply
    -2
  8. Eric Jussaume Aug 21, 6:14 am

    Great article, I really enjoyed it. Flat and 3D design have been around for a long time and will continue to be for a long time to come. I like to design in both mediums and will continue to do so. I feel as a designer that flat may be in now, but I don’t always want to design in that way all the time. I think being able to design in both flat and 3D makes you a stronger designer.

    Reply
    0
  9. jkerwin Aug 21, 8:15 am

    I personally love flat design, but it’s so true about how your typography must be that much stronger.

    Reply
    +1
  10. Vasu Aug 21, 9:48 am

    Great article, really impressive, i think flat design will work in most of d times. It really works due to trend and compatibility. But the designers who are using patterns, drop shadows,and other effects may find it hard to digest, but as mentioned a good design is all about the usability and functionality flat designs will make a greater difference.

    Reply
    0
  11. Candeed Creatives Aug 21, 5:50 pm

    As a design firm, we believe that the most important thing is ‘always be yourself’. Listen to what your heart says. Do what you like and do it best. See how rock musicians and rock music fans are keep rocking and rolling although dance music is being trendy.

    Do you think that true artists like Picasso, Andy Warhol, Walt Disney, Chermayeff & Geismar, Shepard Fairey, Paul Rand, etc. will bothered by things like this?

    Reply
    +13
  12. Geirr Aug 21, 11:18 pm

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Reply
    -6
    • Adrian Aug 21, 11:52 pm

      Flat or not flat, skeuomorphic or not skeu, SEO effects for one page websites are the same…

      Reply
      -2
      • aaron Aug 21, 11:59 pm

        Totally. After re-reading… I think Geirr confused and combined the ideas of flat design and single page (endless scroll). Single page would have less chance for SEO tactics than a sprawling site.

        Still- nothing to do with flat design.

        Reply
        +1
  13. Frederik Aug 23, 7:15 pm

    we love the flat design :)

    Reply
    0
  14. fjpoblam Aug 23, 8:45 pm

    Superb article. Especially the note, “trends come and go”. Is a flat design “sustainable”? I was amused to see that, once flat design emerged as chic, long shadows became chic as the next big thing. Usability is still chic, I hope, to the extent that tools (e.g., form buttons) do not become so flat as to become indistinguishable in intent from flat site backgrounds. As for me, I think there’s still room for e.g. some sort of “decoration” to mark areas to catch the visitor’s eye. The site’s for the visitor, not the designer’s sense of what’s chic.

    Reply
    +1
  15. Eric Aug 24, 12:44 am

    I see flat design as classic myself, not trendy. Bauhaus started it all really and to me that never went out of style. I agree with the comments about using the right aesthetic for the right project, yet I also think flat design is future-forward and timeless when done appropriately.

    Reply
    +4
  16. Spiv Aug 25, 7:12 pm

    It’s not a trend. I used this style a lot when building flash websites in the old days, about 8 years ago. And I wasn’t the only one. People just developed more taste and liking for this simple, clean and effective design over the years. This is timeless design and for every age.
    Shadows and depth make things complex and time-consuming if you want to do it right.

    Reply
    +3
  17. HemanthMalli Aug 26, 7:32 pm

    Good read !! Flat design is simple, efficient with good user-interface !! I like them !!

    Reply
    -1
  18. Jason Aug 27, 1:51 am

    Regarding SEO.

    The supposed poor optimization of single page sites is one of the many throw away comments the often sleazy SEO industry continues to drill into clients heads. In fact, I’ve found their is an inverse relationship to the strength of an SEO agency’s in-house design and copywriting team, and the more ‘best-practices’ vomit they spew.

    Although this article mentions poor typography, it fails to mention poor content or copy. With content now the Kingdom, not just the King, it’s impossible for SEO guys to hide their unreadable and robotic ‘optimized’ copy across 3 dozen useless pages. No one uses the web like that anymore, especially on tablets and phones. Without acknowledging it directly SEO companies now realize they can not keep up with the current state of the web because they lack the talent or creativity to properly create strong websites. The days of simply writing ‘content’ by plugging a bunch of keywords into Google’s search tools are gone.

    It should also be mentioned how often I’ll begin a project by reviewing the existing (supposedly optimized) content spread across a barren wasteland of a sitemap only to find images without meta or titles, or content not wrapped in H1 or H2.

    Besides, with the computing power available these days and the sheer quantity of web searches performed daily, Google’s algorithm has grown too smart to become fooled by many of their antiquated tricks. These days rankings are more effected by items such as time on site and interactivity then keyword placement or saturation. Poor UX and content, specifically in any eCommerce industry (I work with a lot of hotels) are a far greater detriment to a website’s organic placement then not having 24 pages of garbage when the average pages per visit is under 3.

    I’m always shocked when a new client loops their SEO team into a build and they immediately start to protect turf that has already turned brown. It’s for this very reason I typically won’t take a contract unless I can either bring in my own copywriters or have right of first refusal on their vendor. Regardless, although I do allow the client’s SEO agency to provide a suggested keyword outline, those words are only implemented if it makes sense for the copy and writer. More often then not they do, just not 24 times in the same paragraph.

    Ultimately a single page site always has to make sense for the client or product, but you don’t create content for a website, you design for it. The often heard ‘it won’t optimize properly’ argument needs to stop. I’ll take a ROI and analytic Pepsi challenge against any SEO agency who wants to convince me otherwise.

    Reply
    0
    • Spiv Aug 27, 2:47 pm

      Strange off topic comment. SEO has nothing to do with this article. Flat design doesn’t stand for single page design nor has it influence on SEO. It’s pure CSS styling.

      Reply
      +1
  19. Viejus Aug 27, 7:17 pm

    “Think Different”. YEAH RIGHT.

    Reply
    0
  20. Goran Aug 27, 7:49 pm

    “Flat design is very trendy , but how long will it last?”

    Like any other design trend and elements that come and go, we designers are always looking for a new fresh approach. Yes we seen flat designs in the past, in fact not that long ago but this is a new approach for flat designs, thanks to new technologies and adapted techniques.

    Trends are not bad, they model the web and help UX and UI, good things stick, not so good things despair. In this word “trendy” is cliche and may hint to something that will not stick around.

    Reply
    +1
  21. Zaq Nov 27, 7:47 pm

    Flat design is a plague and hopefully will be a short lived trend. This is what happens when hipsters try too hard to be trendy, you get UI’s that look and feel like they were built in MS Paint in the early 90′s and it’s called progress.

    Reply
    0

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