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As a business trying to keep up with the constantly changing internet, it can be hard to decide which trends to follow and what works best for your business. It is important to have a modern and up-to-date website, but if you chase every trend you’ll often end up falling behind and adopting practices that don’t suit your own business.

The biggest decision many web designers and business owners have had to make in recent history is whether or not they should adopt the flat design craze that has swept the web over the past year, or whether they should be using more traditional skeuomorphic design practices for their brand. As the flat design style has become a staple of many big businesses, many brands are also forced whether they run the risk of becoming cliche by picking up flat design or if they will fall behind the times with the older style.

If you aren’t familiar with the whole flat design vs. skeuomorphism debate, there has been a major shift in popular web design trends that really gained steam in 2013. Chances are, your web design has relied on skeuomorphic design principles at some point, even if you’ve never heard the word.

Skeuomorphic designs rely on recreating objects and visual styles from the three-dimensional world in order to make web design more easily relatable to users. By using stylistic cues and layouts from things such as calenders or notepads, users are immediately able to feel familiar with a website or application.

However, as computers, tablets, and smartphones have made technology a constant part of day-to-day life, flat design proponents have pushed for designs that are created “for the screen.” As a guiding principle that is understandable, but flat design activists have translated that mantra into strict stylistic principles as grounded in minimalism as they are web design.

Flat designs use simple elements and a strict two-dimensional approach that eschews all added effects such as drop shadows, bevels, and embossing. Flat design has also been heavily associated with the flourishing popularity of more complex typography.

The loudest voices for flat design have made it sound as if the new design style is a revolution in how we design, and on some levels it is. The basic guiding principles of “designing for the screen” can open up many new ways of thinking about web design which are fertile for innovation. As a style based on minimalism and strict stylistic rules however, flat design is a trend with more lasting power than some of the more fleeting crazes.

It is more important as a business owner to decide what design styles benefit your brand the most, rather than which trends are the most popular at the moment. There are numerous benefits of flat design, but skeuomorphism has been a long standing way of making products and web designs the most usable and familiar they can be for their audience. Plus, as Apple has shown, you can make your designs more flat to benefit usability without entirely going to Flat Design.

To help you understand which design style benefits your brand and business the most, WebdesignerDepot released an infographic highlighting the biggest advantages and drawbacks to skeuomorphism and flat design. It may help you find which style works for you.

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Risk Everything

 

For much of the history of the internet, one of the biggest guiding pressures was to fit as much content into the immediately visible area of the page while also providing an aesthetically pleasant view. The focus on “above-the-fold” design meant most sites generally have a header taking up 20-30 percent of the screen, including navigation, with content immediately available below. But, these days many designers are eschewing the old ways in favor of going big.

Many web designers are using oversized layouts with large, gorgeous images and videos, and luscious typography to immediately catch visitors’ attention. They make a statement immediately, and encourage users to begin interacting with the site. By opening the composition of your page and expanding everything, you push users to take in the sight and then start scrolling to see more, especially when combined with parallax scrolling and effects. As Carrie Cousins explains, “because the design is divided into screens that are unique, having something supersize on each is a great way to keep users interacting with the content.”

These types of websites also show that the designer or brand pushes past the standard for something more. Rather than relying on stock images, these oversized layouts are based on unique and visually exciting imagery. You get to showcase great visuals, which then showcase your own work.

The copy on your page also gets more attention on oversized layouts. There are less huge blocks of text to overstimulate the user at once, while the impressive layout draws attention to the text. Oversized layouts also allow designers to increase the size of text, demanding the attention of viewers. This is all bolstered by the use of quality typography which is allowed to standout on these types of layouts.

Cousins has a few other tips which will help designers play with the new larger possibilities of web design. While many clients may call for something more traditional, some projects allow you to expand your abilities and demand more of viewers while rewarding them with a gratifying user experience.

Flat Design Example

 

Flat design is undoubtedly one of the most popular design trends of the moment. You’ll find it online, on your phone, and it is even starting to make its way off the screen and onto posters and physical designs. It has already spit off into sub-categories of flat design like the so called “almost flat design” Apple is employing in their new iOS and the newly popular long shadow design.

But, the design style isn’t perfect. None are. The trendy style has numerous things it achieves very well, but there are far too many people glancing over the more problematic side of using flat design. Carrie Cousins wrote about the pros and cons of flat design, but plenty of people are willing to sell you on the upside of flat design. Today, I wanted to focus on the drawbacks.

It’s Trendy – While being trendy can be a positive – no one wants to be falling behind – you also have to be aware that flat design won’t last forever. As we’ve seen with the splintering into new iterations like long shadow design, the trends are already moving away from completely flat design, and there is no way of knowing when it will suddenly seem out of date entirely.

Usability – The simplification that lies underneath flat design can cause usability problems. Flat design can streamline a site, but it can also cause users to feel confused by the minimalistic interface. Many say they don’t know where they are supposed to click or tap, because the style does not do a good job defining what is and isn’t clickable.

Typography – Great typography looks absolutely marvelous in flat design, but boy does the style make it noticeable when typography is weak. Just look at iOS 7. The initial unveiling used an insanely thin typeface which many complained about. With layouts as simple as these, the eyes immediately go towards problem areas, and there is less to hide any flaws. If you aren’t great with fonts, you might ask for help or consider another style.

Too Simple – Not every site needs minimalism. The reason you haven’t seen flat design on many news sites is that the style isn’t good at conveying large amounts of information visually or textually. The style demands short phrases, impactful concise words, and full paragraphs just don’t tend to fit. The style of your site should entirely depend on the needs of your site. If you fill like you’re having to cut too much to fit into the trend, you should choose another design solution.