21 Jan 2014

Flat or Big and Juicy?

While the SEO industry cries foul at Matt Cutts’ latest onslaught against guest posts, the UX industry is all a flutter over flat web design.

If you read posts from web designers, they absolutely love flat design.  There is also a new strange rock on Mars resembling a jelly donut.  Both are odd.

Why Flat?

The point of flat design is to make content adaptable for desktop and mobile use by choosing minimalist design.  Designers like it because it allows for more creative use of vibrant colors and typography.  Gone is 3D design, which means the removal of beveled buttons, drop shadows, embossing, gradient, feathered edges, etc.  Content is strictly 2D, living on the same plane.

Understanding where to go on a web page is communicated by the layout and hierarchy of content.  For mobile and application design, flat takes up less space.  Flat design makes better use of font styles for communicating a certain look and feel, and there is a severe downplay on wordy text.

On touch screen devices, flat design works well.  It’s easy to see the big colorful boxes and fit a finger tap on them.

People Don’t Like Flat

As with any new fad, overkill happens.  Windows 8 is now installed on all new PC’s, even if you have no interest in touch screen use.

Last August, Jakob Nielsen wrote this about flat design:

Flat design and improperly rescaled design are the main threats to tablet usability, followed by poor gestures and workflow.

A recent survey of Cre8asiteforums members shows that not everyone is happy with flat design.


I don’t like flat design. It’s flat (which I realize is just repeating the name, but I say it again because flat implies “blah”), it’s bland, it’s boring, and it’s usually kinda ugly.

Where to go next?

Flat design is a problem because, for me, it’s too difficult to figure out what the active parts of a design are: buttons, links, etc., are all blended too fine, and they’re hard to discern.

The world is not an Apple

I think the biggest problem flat design has going forward is that most designers are not of Apple level ability. And minimalism is so difficult because there is so little. Simple does not equate with easy.

Pushing buttons is fun

I want clickables with signals.  I like links to be underlined and buttons to have a degree of buttonyness. I like buttons that look like buttons.

Do You Miss Big and Juicy?

Flat design for mobile applications succeed because they are simple.  Does this translate to all web site design?  The emphasis is on visual presentation.  We no longer can look for underlined text and feel confident it is a link.  Page scrolling has grown in acceptance, both vertical and horizontal.  This means less clicking to new pages and more time on the page getting the information we want.

  1. Are you a flat design cheerleader and if so, how come?
  2. Is this a fad?
  3. Do you miss 3D, pushy things?


  1. Stuart Draper January 21, 2014 at 4:00 PM

    There are other things you can do to make a button feel like a button, while leaving it flat. Upon mouseover, you can have the button do a myriad of things. You can add a backlight that works without mouseover.

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