Flat design: the secrets behind this graphic design trend

Written by Franco

since flat design is based on simple and flexible elements

Blog » Flat design: the secrets behind this graphic design trend

Have you noticed that today’s logos are much more minimalist and functional, and have you noticed that the interfaces of the past were much more elaborate and complex?

This trend in graphic design has a name: flat design, and it has become one of the most important trends in the world of design today. And also in marketing and software development.

In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about flat design, its history, features and advantages. In addition, we will tell you what points to consider before putting it into practice, when to use it and when to opt for other approaches.

Table of Content

What is flat design?

Flat design is a style of graphic and user interface design characterized by its focus on simplicity and the absence of three-dimensional elements, realistic shadows and elaborate textures. 

In other words, the principle of less is more in all its glory.

Instead of using complex visual effects, flat design relies on simple, flat shapes and colors to communicate information clearly and directly. In other words, it takes advantage of the full potential of precise, versatile and simplified design.

The history behind flat design

The history of flat design is an evolution in graphic and user interface design that has spanned several decades.

Flat design has its roots in the Swiss design movement, which emerged in the 1940s and focused on simplicity, clarity and legibility in graphic design. 

Swiss designers, such as Max Miedinger (creator of the Helvetica font), sought to eliminate unnecessary decorative elements in favor of a minimalist and much more functional aesthetic.

The International Style, also known as the Swiss Style, influenced graphic and print design around the world. It was characterized by simple typography, effective use of white space and logical organization of information.

As digital user interfaces began to develop on computers and display systems, the focus on simplicity and clarity of Swiss graphic design influenced the way interfaces were designed.

Today, its simplicity, clarity and effectiveness make it a favorite among graphic designers. And also a favorite of software developers.

Characteristics of flat design

  • Solid and bright colors: vibrant and solid colors are used instead of gradients or shadows to give emphasis and separate elements in the interface.
  • Legible typography: priority is given to the legibility of typography, using simple and clean fonts.
  • Simple icons and graphic elements: icons and buttons are usually composed of basic geometric shapes, such as circles, rectangles and triangles.
  • White space: white space or negative space is used effectively to separate and organize elements on the screen or in graphic design.
  • Simplicity: details and ornamental effects are minimized, resulting in a clean and easy-to-understand design.

Advantages of flat design

Now that we know the characteristics of this approach, let’s take a look at its benefits:

  • Simplicity and clarity: flat design prioritizes simplicity and clarity in the presentation of information. This makes it easier for users to quickly understand the interface and the information displayed, which improves usability.
  • Loading speed: by using flat colors and simple graphic elements, interfaces designed with flat design tend to load faster compared to designs that incorporate complex visual effects and elaborate textures. This is beneficial to the user experience, especially on devices with slow Internet connections.
  • Adaptability to different devices: flat design is highly adaptable to a variety of devices and screen sizes. Flat, simple elements scale easily without losing their readability or appearance.
  • Improved accessibility: the simplicity of flat design often translates into greater accessibility for people with visual impairments. Clear shapes and colors make it easier to navigate and understand information.
  • Modern design: flat design is perceived as modern and up-to-date, which can enhance the image of a brand or project. This is especially important in a constantly evolving digital environment.
  • Facilitates touch navigation: On touch devices, flat design elements are often easier to touch and select, as there are no complicated three-dimensional elements to hinder interaction.
  • Easy maintenance and updating: the simplicity of flat design makes it easier to make changes and updates to the design without negatively affecting visual consistency.
  • Less distraction: by avoiding flashy or superfluous visual elements, flat design can help users focus on the information or tasks that are really important.

Disadvantages of flat design

  • Lack of depth: the simplicity of flat design can make interfaces appear two-dimensional and lack depth. This can make it difficult to perceive the hierarchy of information and the relationship between elements on the screen.
  • Possible lack of emphasis: by avoiding shadows, gradients and other visual effects that are used to highlight important elements, flat design can make certain elements unnoticed or less noticeable.
  • Possible lack of personality: some critics argue that flat design can lead to interfaces that are generic or lack personality, as it focuses on simplicity and functionality over aesthetics.

Advantages and disadvantages of flat design

When is it best to use flat design?

Flat design is a great bet in the following cases:

  • Mobile app and website design: flat design is a popular choice for designing user interfaces in mobile apps and websites. Its simplicity and ability to adapt to different screen sizes make it ideal for ensuring a consistent user experience on a variety of devices.
  • Responsive UI: If your project requires a user interface that is highly responsive and adapts to different resolutions and devices, flat design is an excellent choice. Its simplicity and flat design scales easily.
  • Minimalist design projects: flat design is perfect for projects that seek a minimalist and clean approach. It’s ideal for conveying information clearly and without unnecessary visual distractions.
  • Logo design and branding: many brands have adopted flat design in their logos and branding strategies to achieve a modern and clean look. This can help maintain a consistent brand identity across various media and platforms.
  • Educational apps and games: if you are developing educational apps or games that focus on teaching and clarity of information, flat design can be a wise choice.

When is it better not to use it?

We suggest you not to opt for flat design in these 3 specific cases:

  • When you need more detail and more realism: if your project requires representing objects or elements realistically with precise details and textures, flat design is not the best choice. Other design styles, such as skeumorphism or realistic design, may be more appropriate.
  • Entertainment and gaming projects: games and entertainment applications often benefit from more eye-catching and detailed visual elements to create immersive and engaging worlds. Flat design may not provide the depth and visual appeal these projects need.
  • Specific branding and brand style: if you already have an established brand or design style that includes specific visual elements, such as shadows or textures, flat design may not be consistent with your existing brand identity.

Tips for taking advantage of flat design

These tips will help you create exceptional designs WITHOUT losing the essence of flat design.

1. Understand the basics of flat design

First things first.

Before you begin, make sure you have a solid understanding of the fundamental principles of flat design and how you can apply them to your design. For example, simplicity, clarity and the absence of three-dimensional visual effects. 

This will help you maintain a clean and sophisticated design without cluttering it with unnecessary details. It will also help you not to oversimplify or sacrifice the brand’s visual identity.

2. Define a color palette

Choose a solid and vibrant color palette that fits the aesthetics of your project and conveys the desired message. 

In this case, bright colors and even pastel colors can be your best bet. Just make sure the colors are accessible and legible to all users.

3. Use legible typography

Choose text fonts that are clean and easy to read. Typography is crucial in design, but it is more than crucial when it comes to flat design, since EVERYTHING is communicated mainly through text. 

For this reason, make sure the font is readable on different sizes and devices. And of course, don’t forget that the font has to fit with the rest of the design and the visual identity of the brand.

4. Design simple icons and graphic elements

Icons and buttons in flat design are usually composed of basic geometric shapes. Keep these elements simple and consistent in style and size for a uniform user experience. 

To do this, you can rely on concepts rather than more realistic designs. And of course, simplify existing designs or photos for a simpler, more versatile and easy-to-apply concept.

5. Use white space effectively

White space is a crucial part of flat design. Use negative space to separate and organize elements in the interface. This will allow you to improve the legibility and clarity of your design, no matter where you apply it.

6. Create visual hierarchy

Although flat design focuses 120% on simplicity, it still requires a visual hierarchy to guide users through the information. 

The user is always the main focus when designing interfaces, and these need to be as functional as possible.

Therefore, use text sizes, colors and spacing to highlight important elements and organize information logically.

7. Subtly add depth

Although flat design tends to be very simplistic, you can add a sense of depth in a subtle way by using shadows and light layers. This can help highlight key elements without completely abandoning the flat style.

And this way, your designs will have a bit more detail and appeal, without sacrificing functionality.

8. Maintain visual consistency

It’s essential that your design is consistent across the entire interface or project. Not only does it have to be consistent with typography and font style. It also has to fit with the interface and the visual identity of the brand. 

To do this, we suggest you establish a design manual and a brand manual, which will help you keep your design consistent across different presentations.

9. Test on different devices and screen sizes

Because functionality is the alpha and omega of flat design. And many brands often fail on this point.

On many occasions, a page looks great on mobile but doesn’t look as good on a computer; and vice versa. So make sure your flat design is responsive and looks good on a variety of devices and resolutions. 

Test on as many devices as possible, including mobile devices, tablets and computers.

Also, perform load, fluidity and performance tests to minimize the amount of resources needed to make your design run smoothly.

Tips to take advantage of flat design

Flat design is one of the best alternatives if you are looking for a functional, minimalist and high-performance design. And therefore, it’s already an indispensable resource for designers and developers alike.

If you are looking to stay on trend, bring more simplicity and minimalism to your designs and take them to the next level, flat design will be your best ally.

What do you think about flat design? Do you think it’s better to opt for a functional design even if it’s not the most realistic or the one with the most details? We are dying to know your insights, so feel free to share your perspectives in the comments.

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