Time. Place. Purpose.

It is to be expected, in almost all aspects of modern society, the need to deprecate whatever becomes popular and identify things as passing trends or fads. More commonly than not, we tend to repeat someone else’s opinion without ever doing a personal exercise to analyze what makes things work or fail. In an effort to break this trend, this is my own examination of the recent trends we’ve fallen into in the world of design.

Over the past year design has moved towards what has been referred to as “flat design”, the removal of any hint or reference of the three-dimensional world. Simply put, we’ve been experiencing an implementation of “Minimalism”.

What’s been left behind, and becoming the ugly duckling of sorts, is “skeuomorphic design”, the use of visual metaphors to represent real world objects - those near-tangible glass buttons, realistic textures, lined paper, stitched leather, you name it…

These elements certainly served their purpose in their time, to provide familiar environments inside touch centric devices. You immediately identified a knob when you wanted to change the volume without needing to be shown how to.

Fast forward six plus years, and those visual explanations have now become redundant and unnecessary. Solutions to a problem touch OS’s no longer have. Users are familiar with how things work.

Flat design is a logical departure in response to that need, where graphic environments are stripped bare to the their basic form. The right color balance is achieved, shapes are simplified to their best graphic representation and a thorough use of hierarchies is reached; all favoring content, as design should do.

This newly embraced simplified approach, many are calling a fad; is actually a design core principle, therefore timeless, closely linked to what design ultimately is, at least what good, successful design, should be.

As with anything else, great concepts thrive or die at the hands of those who apply them. When everybody gets on board the same bandwagon, there are people bound to make poor use of it, applying it because it’s the trendy, hip thing to do, and not because it’s the right vessel and implementation of an idea.

Flat design, applied as a skin, with none of the hard work done behind it, is unforgiving. There are no fancy visual clutches to hide bad decisions under, and it will expose any shortcoming and illogic organization of content.

As a trend, by definition, it is bound to be replaced. As a principle, it is universal and here to stay.

It’s hard to identify what comes next because it’s always evolving, and happens progressively. We’re certainly reaching a breaking point under that “flat” banner, in which everything starts looking similar and it is through our collective design work, and development of technologies, that things start shifting it’s course.

Looking forward to it.

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Written by
Daniel Cornejo 07 May 2014

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