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Is the Flat Design Trend Really Hurting the Usability?


A flat design is the most talked about thing right now in the User Interface industry. The Flat design has been designed opposite to skeuomorphism design, taking in consideration opposite style and features. The flat design has also taken over the graphic design world in a very short amount of time. The best example of the Flat design would be Windows 8 or Apple IOS 7. So, now the question arises that “is Flat Design just a part of the passing trend or the future of User Interface?”. Let us continue and go a bit deeper in the details and study Flat design.

So what exactly is Flat Design?

Before going ahead, the first thing to know about is ‘what the flat design is’. Flat design is known for its style. The flat design also aims at simplifying the interface by eliminating extra elements such as textures, shadows, bevels and gradients that create a 3D look.

The flat design aims to create a finished design in two dimensions, without missing on any of the features that a “regular” interface provides. The thought creates a new challenge for the designer in terms of maintaining consistency in terms of the interface. Flat designs aim at making real world objects for the real world.

Flat design has made its way to the mainstream. Companies like Google, Microsoft and Apple have also switched towards flat user interface. Flat design as a design approach strips away all the visual edging, leaving behind only the essentials. Flat design can just be termed as a new name in terms of designers.

Flat design is developed to create more competent and user-friendly interface. The simple purpose of flat design is to make things easy, but the current reality is far different from the current thing.

How does it Hurt Usability?

Therefore, now we need to know how flat design hurting usability works. The answer lies around us most the websites and application have completely switched from skeuomorphism to the new interface. Flat becomes too flat and boring. Okay, so no textures, no drop shadows and not to miss no gradients. Flat design aims to keep designs and icons consistent.

Like any good design, a flat design should make user interface the priority whereas a flat design makes aesthetics the top priority. Some believe that a flat design is just a phase and will subside once the users and company get tired. The second most important worry is non-responsive or improper rescaled designs, which could last longer.

According to a survey report by Jakob Nielsen’s, a flat design is taken as a great threat to usability. The first foremost issues that users have started facing with a flat design do not know where to click and what to do on the screen. Most of the issues have also been faced with apps, with a flat design the interface changes from brands to brands as well as versions to versions.

A non-responsive design is always a threat to usability because the websites designed for laptops and desktops are quite different for the ones used in smart phones and tablets. The issue of rescaling is also a great problem for UI designers. The existence of numerous platforms such as Android, MAC and Windows also poses a great challenge for incorporating a flat design brilliantly in the system.

Another feature missing in a flat design is discoverability. The discoverability was a great option, which has been missed out while switching to flat designs. Earlier instead of each possible action in the interface could be found out through a systematic examination of the menus. What more has a flat designed missed! Undo! One of the greatest features that the computer interface had experienced has been completely ignored while flat designing. This makes it a hard task to go back from accidental selections and unwanted pages. With a flat design, all you do is to fidget and try to go back. For example, if a finger by accident touches an active region, producing an action, because the touch was unintentional, there is almost no way to know why the resulting action took place.

Now taking the real world example on this one is IOS 7. It is just flat! Skeuomorphic elements have been vanished. No more stylized icons and faux wood trim. Some icons have just missed on the gradients and some are using inconsistent ones. The icons have also lost their consistency, symbolic demonstration of most of the icons has become oversimplified or as we say meaningless. Like if we compare the Game Center icon, the icon displays a group of colorful, glassy-looking circles. The icon had a symbolic representation defining it representing sports. In a flat usability design, the symbolic representation is poorly done making it meaningless.

The other great example of a flat design hurting usability is Windows 8; where the use of brave bold colors has done wonders for the brands. On the other hand, functionality has just been neglected. In terms of usability, Microsoft has tried to offer the usability interface of a tablet in a tablet. Making Windows 8 quite a short-term product. UI expert Jakob Nielsen ran a number of usability tests on Windows 8 platforms and jotted down several issues with its User Interface. Another great issue, which users had faced with a flat design, was to know if things are clickable or not. No Gradient, No shadow and texture make it very difficult for users to know whether to click or not.

So, what is the solution, the answer maybe lies in finding a midway solution. A design, which is almost flat. So how is almost flat design different from the others? An almost-flat design allows soft shadows and gradients to draw dimension, visual hierarchies, distinction, visual cues & boundaries. The idea makes things much simpler for users and hurting the usability also less. Companies or websites opting for a flat design have to work on different aspects of promoting it and making easy in terms of usability.

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