The Limited Downsides of Flat Design

flat design switch

The last 3 years have seen numerous companies follow a trend and make a dramatic switch to flat design in their attempts to revamp their brand. From Netflix to Google and more, the big players are all making the move to a style that is generating a lot of attention, and while flat design merely seems a trend at the moment, I think it’s here to stay. The benefits that come with the simplicity of flat design are simply too numerous to ignore. In fact, they are so numerous and have been written about so often that it’s made me think that maybe it’s time that someone look at at the negatives, and that’s what this post is going to be. Now, this is not to say that I don’t personally prefer flat design, because I do. I just think it would be interesting to see the other side of things. So, before we move on, it’s important to realize what flat design is. “Flat design,” overall, is just a buzzword that encompasses a wide range of more specific elements, but at the core it really means that your design focuses more on the content and interaction instead on decorative elements which try to mimic the real world.  By taking this approach, flat design set’s a lot of bandwidth and design resources free to use for more important things like meaningful animations that help the user understand context or big and beautiful images that help to tell a story. It also gives the designer much more time to think about those things. But again, there are negative that come with every positive.

Cons of Flat Design

  • It’s Trendy

The thing that comes with trends is that you never know how long a trend will last. I stated earlier that I think flat design is here to stay, but I’m no psychic so I cannot say for sure that it will. Already we are beginning to see more of a move from purely flat design to almost flat design or flat design using long shadows. If you reinvent your website or app frequently, trendy design may be for you. If you want a website that has a long shelf life, consider something a little less “in the moment.”

  • Usability Concerns

When it comes to designing complex user experiences and interfaces, flat design can sometimes actually be too flat and look uninteresting. Not all users are comfortable with the style of an interface and don’t always know what or where to click, so if your design elements fall too flat this could create major usability issues. An analysis by the Norman Nielsen Group found that flat design styles can hinder usability because users don’t always know what is clickable. Further, flat design projects tend to include less “information density” in an effort to keep it simple.

  • Color Palettes Can be Tough to Match

The more colors you use in a project, the tougher it can be to match them properly. Creating a harmonious color palette is a challenge on its own, and can be even more challenging when you add four, five or more colors. Designers who create the most successful flat color palettes tend to stick to a uniform look in terms of saturation and brightness so color choices look intentional.

  • Weak Typography Becomes More Obvious

Just as flat design helps create a focus on good typography, it can really make bad typography stand out as well. (Just look at all the flack Apple received after previewing iOS 7 with an ultra-thin primary typeface.) Flat design is very unforgiving when it comes to boldness. Every choice has some degree of drama, making it hard to hide weak typography. If you are not comfortable pairing or selecting fonts, flat design may not be the best option.

  • It Can Look Too Simple

Depending on the use, flat design has been called “too simple” by some.It can be difficult to convey a complicated visual message in flat design.The other argument against flat design is the simplicity of user-interface tools. Proponents of skeuomorphic design say embellishments that add a sense of realism make tools easy to use. Frankly, it depends on the context.Visual hierarchy can also be a concern with super-simple interface designs. What is most important? How do you emphasis it visually?

  • Some Decoration Can be Good

Not all decoration is bad. Flat design truly limits the number of tricks you can use if you want the project to be truly flat.