Lately, some designers have been championing flat design as the new frontier for layouts and interfaces, opposed to the skeuomorphism we have all come to know and love (even if we didn’t know the name for it). Since flat design may be a new bandwagon in the next year, let’s talk about what the two terms mean.
Flat design is basically what it sounds like. It is a style of interface and design that makes no attempts to cross into three dimensional realism. Microsoft 8 is the easiest example, because it is truly entirely flat. Flat design uses no gradients, bevels, shadows, or any other ways of simulating depth, instead relying on strictly designing for the two dimensional screen.
Of course, flat design has been around a while. Facebook and Google both use the style to different extents, but why are some thinking it is the best, “honest” approach to screen-based design? Wouldn’t you think designs that simulate familiar real world objects seem more user-friendly?
As Mike Redaelli puts it in his comparison of the two, “Why not make the notepad look like a legal pad if that will help your average tech user to understand the concept of the application in one glance?”
The answer to this whole debate is sadly the same as it is to most cases where someone claims a certain style is the savior we’ve all been waiting for who will revolutionize web design. Both styles are entirely valid, and can be used in wonderful exciting ways, but it really relies on what you are trying to accomplish, and who you are designing for. If your audience can’t use the design, no matter how cool it looks, it is a failure.