iphone

It’s virtually impossible to avoid nowadays.  Whether you’re glued to your iPhone, reading Mashable articles, or logging into your Google+ account for the first time in six months, you’re sure to notice: Flat design is totally in right now.  The new iOS7 is a perfect example of this dominant new trend: textures have almost been completely rejected in favor of streamlined, bold, simple, unapologetic geometry and flat color.  And it’s way cool.

These sorts of shifts often happen suddenly, but they’re nothing new.  The web has gone through several visual revolutions in its twenty years of breathless innovation.  Back in the 90’s, no website was complete without a revolving earth .gif somewhere in your header.  In the early 2000’s, you were avant-garde if you had an ultra-glossy facebook button.  More recently, subtle textures and a sense of “depth” was the mark of solid design, and in a lot of cases that’s still very true.  it’s important to remember that not every website needs to chase after this new trend.  But most of Key Web’s recent work make use of slick, refined, flattened color in some way.

iMac-Flat-MockupElegant and Functional

But the move towards simplicity is much more than a shift in mere stylistic taste.  It also serves a specific function.  Take a moment, if you will, to pull out your smart phone.  The screen is really small.  Designers need to take that into account when working through the logic of a site structure.  Add into the mix tablets of varying screen-ratios and countless monitor sizes, and you can begin to see the usability challenge at hand.  Responsive design just makes more sense when your site is less visually “heavy.”  Background textures, complicated structures, and convoluted layouts end up making a site really clunky when it adapts to smaller viewport sizes.  Flat color and minimalist layouts are both flexible and practical.

What’s more, users visiting your site on a mobile device simply are not interested in dramatic cast-shadows, textured backdrops, or glitzy illustrations.  They are looking for simple, straight-forward information.  In a word, the design needs to get out of the way!  By stripping away layers of texture and drop-shadow, the content can once again become the focal point.  And let’s be honest — that’s what you want your site-visitors focusing on anyways.  It’s what brought them there.

New Trend.  New Challenge.

When it comes to beautiful design, the untrained eye can miss a lot without even meaning to.  This is most true when it comes to simple, minimalist design.  For someone who doesn’t have a “designer-brain,” or for someone who is not aware of this new trend, a simple design can oftentimes come off as half-hearted, uninspired, and maybe even lazy.  But when it comes right down to it, simple design is anything but simple to pull off.  With fewer elements at play, the designer has a bigger responsibility to use those elements well.  Good typography and negative space take time to stitch together, and as a general rule, just because something is cluttered doesn’t mean that the designer spent more time on it.

Now that you’re in the know, I encourage you to be on the lookout for the new ways this design trend is being used on websites you visit, apps you use, and even tv or print ads.  Simplicity is timeless and functional — We should embrace it!