I’ll admit it. I really like the flat web design trend; it appeals to my minimalist sense of style. We know Flat Design by many names: Material Design from Google, Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform Design (aka Metro), and the look of iOS from Apple. It’s the idea that elements on the page should lose any visual styling that makes them appear 3D or lift off the plane of the page. No drop shadows, no gradients, no textures. It aims to put more importance on the message and content rather than focusing on designer fluff.
Rich Design VS Flat Design
The opposite of Flat Design is Rich Design, or when ornamentation, such as bevels, drop shadows, reflections or gradients, is added to design elements. This can help elements feel more tactile but this approach is easily over-used. Plus, it makes your whole experience with a site or brand feel garnished, heavy-handed and even old fashioned.
None of us want to appear dated and feel behind the times, so we embrace the latest trends and run full speed into the Flat Design world. But there are pitfalls to this design style that are not as obvious to the casual trend-follower.
The Pitfalls of Flat Web Design
1. Click uncertainty
With Flat Design, it’s often hard to know if something is clickable. For example, all of these could be buttons in Flat Design, or they could simply be headline elements or text overlays.
You have to figure it out by randomly clicking on everything. If users have to guess what to click on, then the design has failed them. As Kate Meyer of Nielsen Norman Group says:
This behavior is analogous to the behavior of laboratory rats in operant-conditioning experiments: If a rat gets a food pellet at random intervals after performing a specific action, the rat will keep doing that action in the hope of getting fed again. Similarly, users have discovered that clicking elements that don’t have strong signifiers sometimes works. Like the lab rats, users will stick to random clicking as long as they get rewarded from time to time.
People need visual clues to help them determine when and where to click. Make sure that your web design helps your customers, instead of frustrating them.
2. Too much similarity and not enough uniqueness
The second weakness of the Flat Design trend is that websites tend to look more and more similar to each other. You can trick out your site with a different color background for the nav or for buttons, but all too often, you get Logo in the top left, nav bar at the top, and big image in the middle with some overlaid text.
If you’re not careful, your brand can lose its uniqueness. You’ll look like every other trendy Flat Design website out there. Don’t be afraid to break the rules and deviate from the strict flatness that this trend demands.
In the end, it’s not only about what people say they like. Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it right. Flat Design can be frustrating. Instead, please think about what’s more usable for your customers and what will make you stand out in a sea of sameness. Ask people not just if they like the look of your new website design, but make sure it doesn’t frustrate them when they actually use it. Don’t treat your customers like lab rats, forcing them to click randomly to get fed.
Want to chat more about Flat Design? Email me– firstname.lastname@example.org.