Definition of flat designToday, the term "flat design" is applied to graphics for numerous purposes and tasks which have common stylistic features. Flat design is the direction which found its broad and diverse expression on digital art and is famous for minimalist and concise use of visual expressive means. Nowadays the term is widely used as the opposite to "rich design" due to harmonic simplicity taken as the basis of this design approach. The most prominent feature which actually has inspired the name of this direction is applying flat 2-dimensional visual details as the opposite to highly realistic and detailed skeuomorphic images. Flat design has been developing actively for the last couple of years covering more and more fields of graphic design still finding the broadest and most diverse application in the sphere of digital design for web and mobile interfaces. This design approach is found as the style favorable for enhancing usability and visual harmony of user interfaces.
Origins of flat designObviously, flat design hasn't appeared out of thin air. Its roots are usually set in Swiss style which historians of design sphere find its direct ancestor. Swiss style, also known as International Typographic Style or shorter International Style, is the direction which appeared and got its dose of criticism in 1920s and later won its bright expression in graphic design in Switzerland of 1940-50s fairly becoming the solid foundation of graphic design of mid 20th century around the world. The leaders of this creative movement were Josef Müller-Brockmann, the representative of the Zurich School of Arts and Krafts, and Armin Hofmann from the Basel School of Design. According to Design Is History portal, the brief description of key features of this style is the following: "...the style favored simplicity, legibility and objectivity. Of the many contributions to develop from the two schools were the use of, sans-serif typography, grids and asymmetrical layouts. Also stressed was the combination of typography and photography as a means of visual communication. The primary influential works were developed as posters, which were seen to be the most effective means of communication." Josep Müller-Brockmann, Auto Club of Switzerland Poster, 1955 Joseph Müller-Brockmann, Zürich Town Hall Poster, 1955 Armin Hoffman, 1959 poster for the ballet Giselle The posters featured here as examples make it obvious that fans of this style liked simple forms, bold and strict fonts of high readability level, harmonic and geometrically based combinations of details, flat illustrations and clear visual hierarchy. It quickly grew more and more popular in different countries of the world and got its new life in the art of early 21st century. Although this style got a variety of expressions in the sphere of visual design for print, like posters, stamps, postcards, book covers, magazines etc., it significantly broadened its horizons with the era of digital design, especially in the domain of design for user interfaces. Websites and mobile applications going through dynamic development of creative search opened the amazing and fruitful perspective for this minimalist and functional approach to design solutions. The style got the name "flat design" which became instantly popular and started a new direction in graphic design daring skeuomorphism and "rich design" and supported with new challenges opened by the field of interaction design. The first step to boosting flat UI popularity in digital products was taken by Microsoft presenting new flat and minimalist style of their products: this movement started in early 2000s and was widely adopted in the products of 2010, in particular in mobile interface design for Windows Phone 7. The basic features of flat design such as intuitive simple shapes, bold clear typography, bright contrast colors, long shadows, absence of complex details and textures found their further development leap in 2013 when Apple released iOS 7 based on the principles of flat graphic as the basis for user-friendly intuitive interfaces. It could be also said some key principles of flat design found their expression in Material Design for Google, still with some deviants like drop shadows etc. Basic and prominent features of flat design include:
- simplicity of shapes and elements
- bold and highly readable typography
- clear and strict visual hierarchy
- close attention to details
- thoughtful appliance of bright colors and contrast supporting quick visual perception
- avoiding textures, gradients and complex forms
- applying the principles of grids, geometric approach and visual balance.