Flat Design

Your constantly-updated definition of Flat Design and collection of videos and articles

What is Flat Design?

Flat design is a user interface design style that uses simple, two-dimensional elements and bright colors. It is often contrasted to the skeuomorphic style that gives the illusion of three dimensions through copying real-life properties. Its popularity became prominent with the release of Windows 8, Apple’s iOS 7, and Google’s Material Design, all of which utilize flat design.

Flat design was originally developed for responsive design, where a website’s content scales smoothly depending on the device’s screen size. With the use of simple shapes and minimal textures, flat design ensures that responsive designs work well and load fast (especially important since mobile devices have slower internet speeds). By reducing the amount of visual noise (in the form of textures and shadows), flat design provides users with a streamlined and more optimal user experience.

However, despite its popularity, flat design also has drawbacks regarding the user experience. The absence of three-dimensional effects (e.g., drop shadows) takes away the cues that indicate how a user can interact with a design. For example, buttons in the flat design style do not appear distinct from other visual elements on a webpage, and therefore do not appear clickable. Because of this danger, flat design is increasingly applied in a more balanced way, often referred to as “flat design 2.0” or “almost flat design.” This trend takes the clean and simple visuals from flat design and adds some subtle skeuomorphic qualities such as color variations and shadows. With this increased depth and dimension, visual variety increases and usability improves. For instance, Google’s Material Design and Apple’s iOS interfaces heavily use shadows and/or blurring effects to make their interfaces more intuitive to use.

Questions related to Flat Design

What is a flat design style?

A flat design style is a clean and minimalist graphic style that uses 2D elements with bright colors. It focuses on minimalism, functionality, and usability and uses no shading or extra details to make visuals look 3D. It prioritizes a clean and organized layout to minimize distractions and improve clarity. 

A flat design style aims to keep things straightforward without any fancy extras. It is about simplicity, with a modern look that is practical and user-friendly in digital apps.

What is a flat design image?

A flat design image is a simple picture made in the flat design style. It uses basic shapes, bright colors, and simple typography. You might see these images on websites, apps, or printed materials. Flat design images keep things neat, focusing on how easy it is to use them. They help share information in a clear and user-friendly way. So, it is a clean and straightforward picture that makes things easy to understand, whether on a website or using an app.

This video discusses various examples of different visual frameworks. Jump ahead to 9.20 to catch an example of a flat design. 

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What is the benefit of flat design?

The flat design comes with a range of benefits:

  • It ensures consistent application across platforms for a unified brand image.

  • User-friendly icons aid in better understanding and interaction.

  • Flat design reduces cognitive load by avoiding complex textures and shadows.

  • It offers a contemporary aesthetic aligned with modern design trends.

  • Easier maintenance and updates due to design simplicity.

  • Simplifies visual elements for a clean interface.

  • It contributes to faster loading times with simple shapes and details.

What is the theory of flat design?

Flat design theory uses clean, white space, crisp edges, bright colors, and two-dimensional illustrations. The goal is to create a modern and straightforward experience for users on computers or phones. 

Flat design became famous as a cleaner alternative to skeuomorphism. The article discusses the evolution, decline, and return of skeuomorphism in design. It also highlights the rise of flat design as a response to the issues with skeuomorphism, emphasizing visual clarity and simplicity. 

What is modern flat design?

Modern flat design, or "flat design 2.0," is an evolution of traditional principles. Modern flat retains the simple, two-dimensional elements, and bright color palettes characteristic of flat design. However, it has subtle additions to address its drawbacks regarding the user experience.

Some notable features of modern flat design are:

  • Incorporates subtle shadows or gradients. 

  • Prioritizes responsiveness, ensuring adaptability to various screen sizes and devices.

  • Employs layering techniques to establish a sense of hierarchy and improve user interaction.

Who uses flat design?

Flat design is widely used across various industries and platforms, seeking clean and modern aesthetics. Major tech players like Microsoft, Apple, and Google have incorporated flat design principles into their operating systems.

Social media platforms, professional networking sites, and web development tools also leverage flat design for its visually appealing qualities. The design trend is not limited to specific industries. Diverse organizations striving for a streamlined and contemporary visual experience in their products and interfaces are embracing it.

Is flat design still popular?

Yes, the flat design remains a prevalent and influential trend. It gained widespread recognition as a design style in 2012 and 2013, notably with the releases of Windows 8 and iOS 7. Since then, flat design has remained a prominent and recognizable trend.

"Flat design 2.0" or "almost flat design" are more balanced ways to use flat design. Major tech companies and web and app designers highly utilize these. 

What is flat design on a website?

A flat design on a website is a modern and clean style. Bright colors, simple shapes, and easy-to-read fonts characterize it. Here are six signs to recognize flat design:

  • Bright Contrasts: It uses vivid colors to guide users visually.

  • Simple Shapes: No fancy, realistic images—just basic shapes.

  • Easy Fonts: It prefers simple, fast-loading fonts, like sans-serif.

  • White Spaces: Blank areas help focus and make websites easier to read.

  • Grid Layouts: It often follows a symmetrical grid for organization.

  • Plain and Simple: Symbolic icons, basic shapes, no textures, and no fancy color blends.

How do you make a flat design?

Here are some simple steps to make a flat design:

  • Utilize basic iconography and design simple and recognizable icons.

  • Opt for a bright and contrasting color palette. Limit the number of colors for simplicity.

  • Limit your typography choices and opt for simple, legible fonts.

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  • Establish a visual hierarchy through size, color, and placement.

  • Eliminate gradients, realistic textures, and shadows.

  • Maintain consistency in design elements and employ a consistent grid system for alignment.

  • Ensure the design adapts well to different screen sizes and test on various devices for responsiveness.

Where can you learn more about flat design?

The course "Visual Design: The Ultimate Guide" comprehensively explores flat design and visual principles. It will enhance your understanding of visual principles, color theory, typography, and grid systems. The course comprises four lessons and provides practical applications:

  • Explore color theory, schemes, and systems. Gain a cultural understanding of color symbolism and its context of use.

  • Understand the anatomy of type, classifications, styles, and typographic terms. Learn some practical tips for selecting and combining typefaces.

  • Recognize the significance of grid systems in providing a structure within the design. Unveil different types and practical applications to enhance design work.

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Literature on Flat Design

Here’s the entire UX literature on Flat Design by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Flat Design

Take a deep dive into Flat Design with our course Visual Design: The Ultimate Guide .

In this course, you will gain a holistic understanding of visual design and increase your knowledge of visual principles, color theory, typography, grid systems and history. You’ll also learn why visual design is so important, how history influences the present, and practical applications to improve your own work. These insights will help you to achieve the best possible user experience.

In the first lesson, you’ll learn the difference between visual design elements and visual design principles. You’ll also learn how to effectively use visual design elements and principles by deconstructing several well-known designs. 

In the second lesson, you’ll learn about the science and importance of color. You’ll gain a better understanding of color modes, color schemes and color systems. You’ll also learn how to confidently use color by understanding its cultural symbolism and context of use. 

In the third lesson, you’ll learn best practices for designing with type and how to effectively use type for communication. We’ll provide you with a basic understanding of the anatomy of type, type classifications, type styles and typographic terms. You’ll also learn practical tips for selecting a typeface, when to mix typefaces and how to talk type with fellow designers. 

In the final lesson, you’ll learn about grid systems and their importance in providing structure within design. You’ll also learn about the types of grid systems and how to effectively use grids to improve your work.

You’ll be taught by some of the world’s leading experts. The experts we’ve handpicked for you are the Vignelli Distinguished Professor of Design Emeritus at RIT R. Roger Remington, author of “American Modernism: Graphic Design, 1920 to 1960”; Co-founder of The Book Doctors Arielle Eckstut and leading color consultant Joann Eckstut, co-authors of “What Is Color?” and “The Secret Language of Color”; Award-winning designer and educator Mia Cinelli, TEDx speaker of “The Power of Typography”; Betty Cooke and William O. Steinmetz Design Chair at MICA Ellen Lupton, author of “Thinking with Type”; Chair of the Graphic + Interactive communication department at the Ringling School of Art and Design Kimberly Elam, author of "Grid Systems: Principles of Organizing Type.”

Throughout the course, we’ll supply you with lots of templates and step-by-step guides so you can go right out and use what you learn in your everyday practice.

In the “Build Your Portfolio Project: Redesign,” you’ll find a series of fun exercises that build upon one another and cover the visual design topics discussed. If you want to complete these optional exercises, you will get hands-on experience with the methods you learn and in the process you’ll create a case study for your portfolio which you can show your future employer or freelance customers.

You can also learn with your fellow course-takers and use the discussion forums to get feedback and inspire other people who are learning alongside you. You and your fellow course-takers have a huge knowledge and experience base between you, so we think you should take advantage of it whenever possible.

You earn a verifiable and industry-trusted Course Certificate once you’ve completed the course. You can highlight it on your resume, your LinkedIn profile or your website.

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