What is Flat Design? An In-Depth Look at this Emerging Trend

In user interface design and the general web, Flat Design has been a recurrent topic in recent times. The trend, also referred to as Flat UI, has been the talking point for most designers who have been keen to know if it can stand the test of time or it’s just another passing fad. Whichever […]

What is Flat Design?

In user interface design and the general web, Flat Design has been a recurrent topic in recent times. The trend, also referred to as Flat UI, has been the talking point for most designers who have been keen to know if it can stand the test of time or it’s just another passing fad. Whichever the case, flat has been a pretty attractive style with most designers being drawn to implement it in their work.

What is Flat Design?

Just as the name suggests, flat design is a flattened interface style which features simple graphics, software and web design that does away with skeuomorphic elements such as bevels, shadows, gradients and textures. This means that the design contrasts with real-world resemblance by trying to simplify the graphics using only recognizable and representative images. The finished design is therefore entirely two-dimensional but still maintains the original or intended functionality of regular interface.

Although this is a simpler version of interface, the detailing is much more complex than in skeuomorphic rendering. Most designers can attest to this challenge due to the fact that striping an interface of its effects and decorations makes it harder to define the main elements or actions in design. The emergence of the design has however been driven by the desire to create digital interfaces with open canvases for future innovation on digital devices. This has been due to the argument that device users have become more sophisticated to the point they no longer need 3D (three-dimensional) replications.

Principles of Flat Design

One of the most distinct characteristics of flat UI design is that it does away with drop-shadow effects, extraneous textures and flashy gradients. This is the absolute contrast of 3D beveled, inset, bulged or clickable items. It’s therefore mostly positive since it forces designers to concentrate more on the content part of their design. As a designer, this obliges you to present the content in a simplified and compelling manner to address the specific needs of your users.

In an extreme situation, the interlacing can be so complex that the user cannot tell the difference between clickable buttons and regular text. This implies that there is no visual indication whatsoever that something is happening or about to happen in response to an action. Flat buttons should therefore focus on grid organization and color contrast complemented with simplistic controls.

With a strong focus on color, the design opens up visual opportunities beyond the long-overused metallic chrome and business blue tones with newer shades like lilac purple, peach red and web green. Since colors can easily be engaging or offensive, the design necessitates careful thought and research to figure out what needs to be portrayed visually.

Beautiful typography is a key foundation of the flat UI design since it allows you to bring back some of the visual fluff and shine lost in the new minimalistic design. Typography can be used to set the mood and define the intended style of interest. Custom or specific fonts will naturally pop out on a simple background and will go a long way to exemplify the message of the site.

Other important aspects of flat design are shape design and animation. The design of the shapes depends on your site styling and creativity and therefore calls for consistency throughout your interface. Animation on the other hand is an exciting feature but somehow ignored or rather overdone to the point that it no longer achieves its purpose.

Why is Flat Design gaining Popularity?

The increasing popularity of flat design is a result of multiple evolutionary factors as well as a reaction to existing trend. From the early days (before 2003) to the emergence of the modern UI, which came via the famous Web 2.0 days (2003-2010), the familiarity of people with interactive devices has been gradually increasing. This has allowed easier adoption and shows that flat design is a reaction to the years of shiny look at me buttons as the pendulum swings towards minimalism.

What are its Advantages?

There are many reasons why Flat Design is gaining popularity at the moment. Hereby listing the major advantages:

  • In user perspective, web site designed with Flat Design Principles are lighter in terms of overall page size and hence loads faster on all devices as well as consumes low bandwidth.
  • The overall effect of this UI is that the user engagement is at least 20 percent higher.
  • In developer’s point, website designed with Flat Design Principle are easy to code and maintain too.
  • The main benefit of going flat from a designer’s perspective is the ease of design.
  • Flat pages are timelier to code and are universally suited for all devices. More so, the design is rendered faster and allows for uncluttered theming.
  • Besides being adaptable for multiple platforms, flat design is more appealing to businesses because of the good use of white spaces and clear typography to exemplify and lay out navigation.

Who is using it?

Flat design has been particularly commended on mobile and app design although it’s slowly being embraced on large screens as well. Windows Phone primarily uses flat design on its operating platform Android and iOS also use it although it’s heavily customized in the former and uses a skeuomorphic scheme in the latter.

All in all, flat design is slowly becoming the interface of choice as designers prefer added depth and texture while users fancy the reduced sharpness and proper interaction. Even so, this is merely just a trend and may not necessarily become a revolution.


Flat Design brings so many advantages in terms of User Experience and Flexibility for web development collective as a team. Based on the niche of the website user you are targeting Flat Design can be a very good solution.

Most recently I had worked on the web development using Flat Design Principle, and the results and user feedback after the site went live were amazing.

About Author

Robin Thebe

Digital Strategist based in Sydney.

I am multi disciplined web developer based in Sydney focusing around WordPress web design, wordpress development, SEO, SEM and Email Marketing.