TLDR: Flat design isn’t intrinsically good or bad. It’s also not easier or harder than other design styles.
There’s been a lot of talk about flat design lately, and I thought I’d chime in on the discussion. Let’s start with some background. I am not a designer. I do not pretend to be one. I’d like think I can mock up a page and make it look not ugly, but that’s about it from a visual design perspective. I’ll use “flat design” vaguely throughout this post. I think we can all imagine the general design shift I’m talking about here, and I see no need to diverge into a post about the semantics of the term.
For the last year, I’ve been hard at work developing the front-end for VentureBoard. Our team was fortunate enough to work with the best visual designer I personally know, Jeff Hilnbrand, to create our logo and help design the flow of our landing page. Jeff favors flat design. Not because it’s in fashion, but because it forces one to use contrast to visually separate elements, instead of relying on visual fluff. Furthermore, it fits Jeff’s personal tastes, and he tends to use it on many projects. This works for Jeff because Jeff is a great designer. If asked to create a design using a different style, I have little doubt Jeff could produce something beautiful.
To me, design is important because it solves problems. To me it doesn’t matter much how a problem is solved visually, so long as the problem is solved so that a particular page or app is easy to use by the end user. Flat design can be used to solve problems. Skeuomorphism can be used to solve problems. What matters ultimately, is a good designer, someone who by nature is versed in solving such problems, is the one doing the problem solving.
Thus, flat design isn’t easier than skeuomorphism. Yes, it’s easier to make something “look flat” because there aren’t as many textures and visual elements. But because of those lack of elements, more time has to be spent on color, contrast, typography, and spacing to maintain good design. Flat design becomes a bit of a double edged sword. It’s easier for a non-designer or mediocre designer to use flat design as a crutch. Instead of choosing and creating the correct textures, they can be omitted entirely. And I think this is where critics of flat design end the discussion. With bad designers using flat design improperly. This is a poor argument because any design style used incorrectly will produce poor results. Does anyone remember “ajax” style?
A good designer can create using a good design using a variety of styles and techniques. Yet, they’ll likely have a personal style that they prefer to use. I’m not a designer, but that seems perfectly natural to me. A bad designer will poorly execute a variety of styles and techniques. Whether it be missing the details needed to create a proper flat design, or not knowing how to create beautiful subtle textures for a more skeuomorphic style.
I think much of the debate about flat design is unneeded. Good designers are good. Bad designers are bad. Good and bad designers will use flat design. Some will not.