Flat design is now so common it is more of a standard than a style. In other words, websites that don’t use flat design look dated and stand out from the crowd for all the wrong reasons. Is it time to fatten up flat designs, though?
Of course, there were good reasons for going flat with website design. Before the style became popular, most websites were overrun with 3D elements as well as textures, backgrounds, and features that served no functional, user-orientated purpose. Examples include bookshelf designs to showcase digital magazines and eBooks, or websites that featured backgrounds in some way connected to the business or organization.
Designers moved away from these elements and design styles not only for aesthetic reasons, but they are insulting to users too. After all, a website user can easily understand the concept of a library of eBooks without it looking like a library in the real world.
As the old saying goes, however, you can have too much of a good thing. This applies to flat design as well, and too flat is too far.
For Usability’s Sake, Not Too Flat
Getting the aesthetics of a website right is critically important. It has to look modern, clean, and unique; flat design principles help you achieve this. Nothing that you do for aesthetic reasons, however, should negatively impact usability. Unfortunately, going too far with flat design has that very effect.
The main problem is with links. This applies to buttons, image links, and text links. On a website with a pure flat design, all elements on the page would look the same regardless of whether they are links or not. Instead of making the links stand out in some way, you use positioning and precedent. For example, you don’t need to make the links in a website’s main menu 3D as users understand that the bar close to the top of a page is a menu, and the words are links.
If you take it too far, though, users can get lost. They won’t know where to click or what to do next, rendering the website ineffective. You, therefore, need a flat design style — but not too flat. Google’s Material Design concept is a good starting point. Things like using layers or subtle and well-designed shadows can lift content from a page without losing the main principles of flat design.
Flat design works, providing usability is at least as high a priority as aesthetics.