Flat Design Is Going Too Far
Design | User Experience

Flat Design Is Going Too Far

on / by Oliver McGough

Flat Design was the design trend of 2013. Momentum is showing no sign of slowing as more and more sites jump onto the idyllic san serif bandwagon.

With so much going for it, it’s perhaps justified that Flat design stands as the design trend of the minute. So, you ask, why do I think flat design may have gone too far?

It is hard to argue a case against it. Flat design brings with it everything that is appropriate for the modern web. Simple, minimalist web pages. This simpleness translating to a medium that is relatively easy to implement. The use of low contrasting colour pallets are easy on the eye. Sans serif fonts creating a feel of cleanliness.The removal of the ‘bells and whistles’ leaves us only what is important: Colour, Shape and Content. A presentation method which is effective at being both minimalist and beautiful. And with the rise of mobile computing, minimalism is a key advantage. Reducing the stress on low power systems.

Net Magazine recently released nominations for their annual Net Awards. The chief prize going to agency of the year. Looking at the sites in question, it is difficult to argue Flat Design has taken the world by storm (See here for an album of the nominees, provided by Reddit user awkwwward).

However, this also raised some of the major issues I have with Flat Design. These are the best in the business, yet they encapsulate my 3 major pet peeves with the Flat World:

Extreme Minimalism

The ethos of flat design is to implement ‘Swiss Style’ design philosophy onto the web. A philosophy that places heavy emphasis on minimalism amongst other things. Don’t get me wrong, minimalism has it’s uses. It has served to tidy up, and condense sites. Cleaning them, creating a user friendly atmosphere. In the meantime, also reducing stress on lower power devices, such as mobile, by creating simplistic web pages.

Minimalism is a fine line however. It is all too easy to overstep the line where minimalism becomes a featureless site.

(Source: Mark Boulton Design)

We begin with an example from Mark Boulton Design. A renowned web design studio, and a Net Award nominee. You’d expect them to be showcasing their talent on their own site. Instead we are presented with an ultra-minimalist spectacle. Creativity seems lacking. Flat, boring colours with basic text explaining what they do. It may be enough to fulfil its purpose, but does little to inspire us with their talents.

That is not to say this extreme minimalism doesn’t have it’s place, Google has done it for over a decade. It just has to be in the correct context. I don’t think a web design agency, where creativity is key, quite fits that.

Mobile First Design, Taken too Literally.

The great, if not the greatest, selling point of flat design is its accommodation for mobile devices. With over 28% of web traffic now mobile, only a fool would not ensure their site was optimised as such. Flat design’s previously mentioned minimalism drops intense graphics, and process-heavy items. Favouring a clean and basic design.

This is all great. Many designers however, seem to forget about the medium on which the majority of the web is still consumed. The humble PC.

(Windows 8’s Metro UI)

Windows 8 is the obvious example. Microsoft attempted to create a uniform experience across all devices. Utilising their ‘Metro’ interface on Mobile, Tablet, Xbox and of course PC. Metro had shown great success on Mobile, Tablet, and Xbox, and the eventual movement to PC was an inevitability.

An inevitability met with much disdain – you either love it, or you hate it. With hidden off screen gestures, and on screen gestures more suited to fingers than a mouse, Windows 8 provides a usability nightmare for any new user, or experienced user. The clunky Metro ‘Start screen’, ‘Apps’ obviously designed for tablet with little or no regard for PC, oversized text, amongst many other wrong doings.

All of these apply to many modern websites, designed to offer a ubiquitous experience over all devices. Unfortunately, if that experience appears far superior on one device over another, why handicap it – especially if it is your largest market? The user has to be first.

Fear of Breaking From Normality

Flat design has seen so much success of late, everyone is desperate to jump on the bandwagon, or risk being left behind. We’re at a stage where if your site isn’t flat, you’re not keeping up with web standards. You’re living in the dark ages. Your site is a failure.

It is no surprise then, that everyone is jumping on – joining in. With the redesign goldrush constrained by relatively strict rules on what Flat Design is, combined with other current web trends, we’re seeing a huge rise in generically designed sites. Designers appear scared to do something different – at risk of not being current. This schoolgirl mentality is stifling creativity and innovation. We are seeing people play it safe in order to conform. Why change when everyone expects, and seems happy with flat design?

(Sources:Teehan+Lax, Meta Lab Design)

The two sites above are again nominees for thenetawards’ top prize. Two top web design agencies we would expect to be forging a creative path. Yet everything is so generic, so similar. These near-identical sites have nothing to do with one-another, other than being in the same industry. Yet the placement of elements is identical in both, down to menu options and company name/logo. Even the background image has stark similarities.

The scramble to conform only serves to turn each site into a template to be ever so slightly customized for the site it belongs to. Is this really what we want – a generic web?

Will Flat Design’s Popularity be Its Downfall?

Flat design has become the template for budding websites. We’ve seen it feature in a plethora of flattened redesigns of late (The New York Times, iOS 7, Flickr). There is no denying that great flat design really is great. That flat design certainly fulfils problems with ubiquitousness and touch interaction found in older styles.

The issue with flat design is that it has become too powerful. We’re at a stage where creativity is being stifled in preference of sticking to a template that ‘works’. Where sites are becoming generic, sites are conforming. Usability is being sacrificed because… flat design works right?

We’ve covered the issue of whether flat design is here to stay before. I’d certainly agree that its principles will have a lasting impression on the web and elsewhere. It has certainly been a welcome change from the messy skeumorphisms of the past. It just feels as if the internet has lost it’s ‘Wow Factor’. I’m becoming tired of being confronted by the same template site after site. It feels as if every designer is being handed a set of 8-10 WordPress templates to deal with, and adapting sufficiently.

Where’s the creativity gone, and when will it return?

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Article by

Oliver McGough

Passionate UX Designer and Marketer.

Share your thoughts

  • Alex Rose

    Great article, always good to challenge ;) I am a big fan of Flat UI design, especially around it’s capability to aid simple ways of completing complicated interactive tasks, but for Web/brochure-ware its an interesting challenge.
    Re thenetawards nominees – Someone recently remarked to me… ‘Is this Web design with good use of photography or just photography which is kinda interactive?’….

    • Oliver McGough

      Thank you kind sir :)

      Yea, I’d certainly agree. Flat Design has rightly taken the fore, no denying that.

      Ha, great remark! I think that encapsulates this trend perfectly. “Throw a beautiful picture on there, and voila beautiful site” …beautiful =/= functional…

  • Jan Van den Bergh

    Maybe flat design is going too far, but on several points the article is in my opinion misleading.

    E.g. The websites from Teehan+Lax and Meta Lab Design are far from similar, although the initial look is quite similar (especially on a screenshot). The experience (or feel in look-and-feel) of both websites was already very different to me. Even the home page felt quite different; static image versus movie, collapsed menu versus main navigation directly accessible, etc.

    I guess there is good reason for the overall structure to be quite similar; easy to use means that some level of familiarity is required.

    These sites are in my opinion (based on only a quick visit) both simple and easy, which is certainly not easy to achieve. Although I’m no design expert, they seem to challenge the status quo — I admit sometimes in very subtle ways — without becoming unintuitive.

    I am not a big fan of these all-encompassing images, but somehow it seams to work (on these websites).

  • Mark Allum

    “We’re at a stage where creativity is being stifled in preference of sticking to a template that ‘works’.”

    So are you suggesting that we ditch trends that are boring and uncreative, even if they work?

    Because I’m pretty sure if you told a client “well, your traffic has dropped x% since those last design changes, but at least I’m not conforming those boring trends” then they would not be sharing their money with you again.

    • Oliver McGough

      Cheers Mark, point taken.

      My point is that if the industry becomes too enamoured with one design, innovation stalls. Creativity will be sacrificed to continue conforming. The only way we can push forward and innovate is by risking with creative flair. If we continually use a template that works, we’ll just be stuck on the flat design treadmill forever. I’m not saying this will be the future – after all, Flat has dominated for barely a year.

      ‘The horse and cart worked perfectly well, why bother risk money on a motorised contraption that could never take off’

  • LJ

    Flat has its benefits, I’ll concede (I’m still not a fan) … but when we are choosing style over substance, and adopting a look to meet a trend, design fails.

    There was actually a lot about skeumorphism that worked well, too … when not taken too far.

    Flat is a fad. The pendulum will swing again, and some other influence will become the design darling …

  • http://rockstartemplates.com/ RockStar B

    Flat design it’s the best thing that happened to webdesign in the last years! It does not block creativity, it’s a challenge to display the information in a most efficient way. Web 2.0 was awful :)

  • Nicolas Schepers

    I agree that, while using Flat Design has many merits, flat designs do not have to look like each other all the time. The principles are fine and honest(mostly) but they should be used more creatively other than copy paste the same structure.

    Don’t fully agree with the ‘Mobile First Design’ argument, as Windows 8’s issues don’t originate from Flat Design. It’s rather because of a lack of proper, user-centred testing and trying to be too radical instead of listening to the users’ top tasks. They’ve done even Flat design wrong, as they hide important functionalities.

    Though it’s true when you look at the hamburger menu, which is being also used when viewing a website with the laptop, which not every users understands (mainly frequent mobile users). But that kind of overlaps with your point on extreme minimalism.

  • Oliver McGough

    Cheers for the input Nicolas :)

    The problem isn’t only with Windows 8, but with many new responsive site revamps. The sites often feel clunky without the benefit of touch. The NY Times site comes to mind, as does the new facebook revamp. Though I love the new designs, I can’t help but feel I’m intruding on a tablet’s app.

    Perhaps this just something to get used to overtime. After all, ubiquitousness is certainly beneficial, and upholds UX principles in attempt to keep the experience consistant. I just hope that attempted consistency eventually solidifies itself.

  • Jerry Burton

    Thanks, for the great reading! I was curious to know what your thoughts are as to where the industry heading next. What are your predictions as to what the next BIG Trend is…As far as Visuals go?

  • http://www.bluesmokecreative.com/ Daniel Dogeanu

    Flat Design is not a trend, it’s rather an evolution. This is why all websites are switching to Flat Design. And keep in mind that Flat and Minimal are not the same thing. You can have Flat Design without it being Minimal, or the other way around.

    But yes, I agree with you! Creativity is suffering a lot from this. Some of my clients even pointed that out to me. I still believe Flat Design is a good thing, but if we all copy the same layout as some frameworks dictate us.. That’s not creativity.

  • http://www.thearmitage.com Serviced Apartments Guy

    I’ve rather noticed this trend myself recently, I would never have thought flat design was bad necessarily? I suppose its that extension of instantly recognisable brand identity.

  • Tim

    I’ve been a software developer since the early 1980s, and have kept up to date with technologies, designs and trends over the years.

    I have to say, I have really been annoyed at the trend towards these “flat” interfaces (and I am really happy to have found your article, since my various searches for articles on the subject – using terms used by Google and Microsoft like “cards”, “tiles” etc. have turned up very little).

    I wouldn’t mind if these interfaces stuck to phones and tablets, but they have migrated to desktop sites and applications as well – places that, in my opinion, they do not belong. Even redesigns such as Microsoft Office’s “ribbon” interface seem overly simplistic to me.

    I like to see a LOT of information on a screen at once, a dense field of content, so that I can scan over it and find what I’m looking for easily. Things like Google’s new Play Store website interface, where all information is displayed in big colorful flat “cards”, where you can only see a few onscreen at the time (I suppose since they expect you’ll be flicking through them on a phone/tablet with your fingers) I find absolutely useless – I want to search for specific terms or comments or features, and it won’t let me… I am FORCED to act like I’m casually browsing on a tablet, not scanning for information on a screenfull of data, which I prefer.

    These bright, Kandee-Kolored Klown interfaces seem to me to be built to appeal to 4-year-olds, not adult eyes and sensibilities, and I hope at some point we go back to more sophisticated, information-dense interfaces.

  • Suzanne

    Thank you, Tim. As someone who must fact-check and quotation-check hundreds of sites each week, I have come to HATE these eye-crap sites. Can’t find a damn thing on them. Checking manuscripts takes me easily four times as long as it used to. I’d like to know who could possibly find this design an improvement, or tolerable, other than the designers jerking off over them.

  • http://www.paliosdesign.com Andrew Palios

    I disagree with flat design not being minimal. It is minimal, it just generally does not have texture, yet. People call it flat design because it is generally easier to digest, in my opinion.

    I think the logical next step here is Conceptual Minimalism. This will begin happening when people decide that minimalist design without a concept or a big idea will begin to get lost in the millions of other minimalist designs out there.

    The idea of conceptual minimalism is that a concept will be expressed through design, with just enough art elements to communicate the concept, and no more.

    The job of the designer is to take what is happening now, whether good or bad, and find a way to make it better. The only way to make minimalism more interesting is to introduce a concept, then use the elements of art to make a design more appealing, but only until the concept is communicated. Then stop! LOL its not easy, but that’s why everyone isn’t doing it!

  • Henry Hode

    >>> ” Is this really what we want – a generic web?”

    Perhaps it is.

    After all, for many useful objects of everyday use, we have settled on some standard, usable, understandable, conventional designs, that all resemble each others. Think of doors, cars, scissors…

    And if elements on web sites with similar intent are placed in the same spots, it could be for the same reason that cars all have generally four wheels. Because it works well that way.

    And most users who are looking through several agency websites, say, to check if they want to work with them, would only benefit from not having to discover every time how their portfolio works.

    Most of the variability we see today on the web is a “forced” attempt to stand out, to attract the attention of users who, most of the time, could not care less of the cool animations or the menu that works illogically just in the attempt to be different. They are there to do something.
    Our job is to provide a consistent, predictable way for them to do so.
    If that means flat design and predictable sites. I am all for it.


  • http://www.kaos.com.hk/ Ayesha Goyal

    Flat design is on the trend due to its simple shapes ,colors

    Its objectives focus on
    1) It emphasize on usage and its clarity.
    2) The limits of the screen and works with in the parameter
    3) It make websites more functional
    4) No edge on the screen
    5) Flat design limits down the visual elements to let expose the essential functionality

    KAOS build appealing,highly compatible designs which conveys the right image of business. Web designer team at hong kong website development company is full of skills and ideas that helps in scoring higher in designign and development field.

  • Julian

    I hate flat design. It is a huge step backwards – to a time before Windows 3.1.
    Even early Star Trek graphics were more interesting !
    Flat design seems more about fashion and image than function. I want to see a button that says “click me”. “Flat” websites are a real turn-off as they require a lot of mouse-trawling to find what’s clickable.

    Minimalism certainly isn’t “modern”. It’s been around since the ’60s (if nor before). Minimalism is just an excuse to be lazy, to cut corners (or rather to NOT cut corners….).
    Why the hell should I pay more for a perfectly rectangular table than one with the corners rounded – but say it’s “fashionable” and the mugs roll over….

    If you want people to re-visit your website then surely navigation to be both clear and interesting.

    Single colour rectangles make me think I’m at a site for pre-schoolers.
    Monotone and simplified icons are both dull and confusing. What the hell does three horiizontal lines mean?

    Here’s hoping that enough small businesses baulk at wasting money on a flat re-design.

  • Tino

    i’ve already used flat UI design for websites and i like the clean and plain colored geometric shapes without texture. It’s the context where it works and where not. On a website with 3D content and flat UI overlay it works good. It’s the right contrast to highly textured background, but in other cases like iOS 7 UI it was a nightmare. Like Tim wrote there is a problem with candy colorization and not intended classification of icons with the same popping orange for example. A user looks at and immediately see a pattern that doesn’t exist. The apps are not in the same class. Why is this happen on iOS 7? My thesis is a oversimplification in color palette (orange, white) similar surface area of white icons inside so you don’t have a chance to differentiate them from each other at first look, so the brain builds a pattern that’s not intended. Another issue is the symbolic iconic design, it’s too boring not outstanding. The old skeumorphism design don’t had this problem. Each icon was unique with rich texture. I also had to change my background picture on the smartphone, because the bad contrast with new flat design. Buttons don’t work as buttons anymore, because they have no depth with the wrong context. I think flat design will transform into a slightly more 3d looking design, but still flat, but with more depth and not pushed to the extreme.

  • Tino

    Hey Julian, i got also huge problems with functionality of flat design. My worst example is the change in iOS7. There are several drawbacks from the prior design. First the recognition of symbolic message of many icons is worse, it’s too abstract and they looking not familiar, second the not intended classification of icons because of a primary background color like orange for several icons, this combined with lack of texture in the icon (just white) leads to confusion or senseless search for the right app because of the perception everything is the same and it’s boring, yes totally boring. I’m going so far to say, flat design is the apologize for the lack the ability to design outstanding real good UI elements, which are unique, which are make a product unique.

    Additionally i’d changed my background because of bad color and brightness contrast. I had also problems in ultra flat UI to find the clickable elements, it’s not a good design for this purpose it needs a bit depth always. Because i don’t want first time hover over all elements too find the hidden treasure, stupid game. The earth isn’t flat, we’re not flat. I always preach to designers not follow the extreme trend, just give some smaller redesign but never forget the intention of the design, the function.

  • Migs

    Flat design is like a plague, a virus of conformity, killing usability in the name of fashion and profit.
    For mobile devices it certainly has some advantages, it goes from simplifying screens to saving some battery life… But the concept was pushed way too far and spreading it to desktop UIs is a huge usability step back.

    The truth is, most companies do not understand that in order to have the best user experience possible, you need to adapt your design to the device you are using. Or they do understand it but since it is more expensive they try to save some pennies by asking for a multi-device compatible interface. And sometimes it is even worse as they create an interface designed for mobile devices and try to make it work on a desktop devices! And there we go, usability is sacrificed for more profit…

    Worse comes to worst, companies managed to turn this capitalistic idea into a trend, knowing that something becoming trendy in the artistic world is like a landslide that would take over all web agency worldwide… Today, everyone has this stupid idea that if a design is not flat, it is a failure, a backward version of reality. “Your design is not flat? Haha you are a prehistorical idiot, unable to embrace change!”

    Then we have designers that are not only formatted to follow trends but they actually like it since it allows them to be lazy! “Oh yeah now I don’t have to bother with shadows and perspectives effects anymore! I can just draw some stupid rectangles with a 16 colors palette and they will be happy!”

    Now it’s like no one cares about usability anymore as long as we are trendy and able to save money when reaching the mobility market. We are all following one way stripped from most creativity and the worse is that we deeply believe that it is good for us. When did this brain-washing happened?!

    Remember this the next time you have to guess what is a button in a simplistic UI where you can hardly find what you are looking for among a mess of geometrical and colorful shapes…

    Excuse me if it’s not the future I had in mind.

  • Kevbo

    Great article! I am very tired of everything being centered around mobile first. Like others mentioned, I often feel like I am being forced to use a tablet/phone interface from my PC. I see more and more sites get re-designed with lots of ‘white space’ and large buttons that are easy for thumbs to press. However the information is spread so thin that you have to click/swipe/look all over just to get stuff that used to all be on 1 page. Very annoying in my opinion.

  • vape guy

    I pretty much disagree with this article and people who say things like “Flat design is used too much” or “Flat design is destroying creativity” or “People are only using flat design because it’s “trendy”. It’s a very narrow minded view about why decisions are made in the business world and the author comes across as inexperienced and juvenile with his attempt to paint everyone with such a broad “talentless, we just want to be trendy” brush.

    Sure, I will contest there are those who are creating sites with no real perspective on web design/content strategy/ui/ux/ia and are simply following the trend. This is true in pretty much any field …

    But a lot of other companies out there know exactly what they are doing and a flat/minimal design is the result of exhaustive research and testing and has proven to meet their business goals.

  • Drew

    As someone who does not design websites or mobile apps and who is just a customer/user, I *HATE* the flat/minimalist design. From a usage perspective, they are the same – instead of being easier to use with “cues” as to what’s clickable and what’s decoration, I constantly find myself having to pause and think too much to find the functional areas of a screen or page. It’s clear to me that minimalism/flat design is more for designers’ fancy and the quest to “do something different” than for usability and a seamless UI experience. Hate hate hate hate flat/minimalism and hate Jony Ive for ruining iOS. :)

  • Ibo Vis

    Good Design to me is a system, all about communication and usability. Great Design adds a touch of art or creativity to make it unique. The reason people are jumping on the flat design bandwagon is because it is the next step in design-evolution. The system is constantly learning and improving itself adapting to the current zeitgeist. Flat design is here simply because when done right it is superior when it comes to communication and usability. Great designers will use the flat design system to create great designs that are creative, unique and have personality. If you like the way flat design looks is a matter of personal preference.

  • D Marie

    Flat design is hot because it’s *cheap*. Any programmer/developer, i.e., anyone who’s NOT a designer, can now call themselves a designer (you just pick a color, and presto/bammo you’re site is designed!). Anything creative requires a true designer who’s spent years perfecting their craft and hence will CHARGE AN HOURLY RATE reflective of that. This fits in nicely with the other trend which is for companies to pay less and less in salaries (again, they expect a programmer/developer to be a graphic designer as well). I first noticed a similar phenomenon 15 years ago, when bad websites were appearing left and right; this was because programmers thought they could design just because they knew Photoshop. Eventually that work (or a good deal of it) came back to the graphic designers and we began to see nice websites (where the designer and programmer work in a team). Sadly, I don’t see that correction happening here.

  • Riz meri

    Flat design has gone too far in the wrong direction, i hate it so much that i refuse to use applications with flat ui, it’s been created by a bunch of hippies and became a trend because of some major companies desiced to adopt it like Microsoft, Apple and Google forcing most graphics designer to use flat design in thier designs. Every time some company convert thier design to flat it makes me so angry that i want to swear, like Spotify.. Tunein radio.. Duolingo… they had a perfect ui and then they messed it up completely with a hippie flat design. I use windows 7 and i love it, there’s no way on earth i’m going to use winows 8 or 10 or any newer versions if they had the same crabby design.

  • Jack

    I feel that, like in everything, a balance is necessary. Flat Design can be used in many ways and can be almost as unique and individual as any other design form. In this modern world of constant digital information, it is my opinion that a simple and clear way of presenting information is not only useful, but almost nessary.

  • Ogre Magi

    How do I upvote this article??

    Personally, I somehow just hate the “new” flat design… It all started with windows 8 and its horrible metro experience…

  • Adagio

    I remember the first time I saw Windows 8. The first thing that came to my mind was “is this a beta of the very first Windows ever?”, but when it dawned on me this was an actual screenshot of the final design of Windows 8 I was shocked. Did they fire the designers to save a few bucks?

    Not only is this flat style extremely ugly, the usability is often down the drain. As many already has mentioned it can be difficult to find the clickable items as clickable items often looks just like any non-clickable items. Often it can also be difficult to “read” the meaning of icons. When icons are only using two colors the icons can be hard to recognize as there are no depth.

    The only “good” thing about this flat style is that even programmers like me can easy make a trend design. No need to spend money on a real designer. I can just put a boring yellow box here, a mindlss lightblue box there and then add a bit of text, then I have created something using this trendy design. Not that I ever would go that way.

    I’m sticking with Windows 7 for now.
    I’m glad this flat design haven’t made an entry in the games I’m playing

  • Sharon

    Truly well said!

  • David

    Slapping a wingding on a primary colour square and calling it a button is not web design. Give me a few drop shadows and glossy buttons. Things were flat and boring in Windows 2.0 and looked better with every version until Windows Vista, then it’s been in decline ever since. There’s nothing wrong with a nice clean interface, but I don’t want to try to figure out what someone’s minimalist icons are supposed to mean.

  • http://blueant.in ImmanuelK

    There are plenty of terrible examples of flat design but I think the reason it works is BECAUSE of its simplicity, not inspite of it. If used well it can be quite elegant without falling into the abyss of over-minimalism. I may be biased because we’ve had great fun using flat design over on our site – it hasn’t been the basis of our entire website design, but we’ve really enjoyed creating characters using flat design (and the people we made them for seem to have dug them too). Super proud of our flat design gifs, e.g. http://blueant.in/gifs-flat-design-blueant/

  • Patti March

    I hate flat design, I hate mobile first.

    • The Darling Kinkshamer

      Why do you hate mobile first?

      • Patti March

        One example:

        A bank redesigned their site for mobile first. It has totally destroyed the ease of viewing information on the desktop. The large blocks of information are a total waste of real estate, not to mention a user’s bank balance shows up so large that it can be read across the room. Users have to scroll down the page to see two to three transactions.

        Just jumping on the mobile first bandwagon is not the right way to redesign websites.

        This is just one example. Mobile first without any thought for desktop or larger screens is just as bad as desktop designs without thought of user experience on a mobile phone.

        • Curt

          Mobile first and flat design aren’t the issue here. The issue lies with poor planning and bad designers (or over-controlling corporate leaders who don’t know anything about design).

          • gadsdengurl

            NO the issue lies with your eyes, which are not suited to flatness and expect SOME depth.. even a slightly raised menu bar is much more pleasing and less eyestrain. I won’t buy another Mac until they fix this problem.

          • Curt

            A differential in color can ease eye strain. There is no single way to do web design. It needs to be based on the client, product, service, etc. Sometimes flat design is a better choice than skeuomorphism. Mac doesn’t have a design problem, there’s nothing to fix.

  • sighmaster

    It’s a shame you deleted all the comments when you switched to the new site design…

  • Tarian

    I too hate (yes “hate”) flat design.
    It looks cheap, lazy, infantile and disrespectul. Lack of colour, depth and detail tells me that the host cares little about the user and usability and more about self, image and fashion.
    “Minimalism” is an excuse to take short cuts, to avoid craftsmanship and skill – whether in furniture or websites.
    If I land on a site to be greeted with one or more of the following I leave:
    * HUGE screen filling photo
    * excessive, unnecessary scrolling
    * acres of empty, glaring white space
    * grey text
    * few items in the menu bar and zero contents list
    * large, monotone slabs

    Too many sites have increased font size and line-spacing so that to see a meaningful quantity of info, my browser zoom has to be reset to 75% or 80%.

    “Mobile first” might be a tolerable approach – but only as long as desktop users are catered for with a distinct UI.
    Serious work involving side-by-side comparison of data or info is almost impossible on a tiny screen so “mobile first” represents a serious dumbing down.

    Claims that mobile visits have overtaken desktop visits are normally expressed as % – which may often hide the fact that desktop visits have fallen off a cliff after a site re-design.

    I’m not alone.
    NatWest Bank’s redesign prompted over 300 complaints – to a Forum that is hard to find.
    After MoneySavingExpert had nearly 150 detailed complaints about a redesigned forum, they retained the original format (but only if you log in.)

    Why do site owners allow designers to disregard the UX for desktop users????

    • Curt

      The “flat design” sites you’re looking must be doing it wrong. There’s a way to do it correctly that keeps a beautiful balance of color, imagery, and content. I am with you 100% in the case against lazy flat design, but overall – when done correctly – I love it.

      • Tarian

        With respect….. your reply misses the point. “beautiful balance of color, imagery, and content” leads on the aesthetic elements. What about ease of navigation – and “invitation to explore”?

        Too many sites start with a pretty picture – so HUGE that there is little info at first view (see comments here about bank sites).

        Add to that sites with very few OBVIOUS links – and you have a recipe for “bouncing” to other sites where the Visitor has to work less hard – and there is much more content visible to tempt him/her to stay.

        Until recently many sites had a “beautiful balance of color, imagery, and content” that were both inviting and navigable – often with nods to reality – with depth, shading, colour and more instantly recognisable links.

        The vast majority (actually I’ve yet to find an exception) of “Flat” sites are lazy and inward looking – as if to say “we care more about ourselves than our visitors”.

        • Curt

          Thanks for your reply. However, I don’t think that I missed your point. I think that you’re being exclusive, as is natural when opinion starts coming in to play.

          Let it be stated that I’m not a proponent of using ONLY flat design. Rather, use different styles to portray the vision and personality of the client or organization at hand.

          Here is a great example of a website that, I believe, is “doing it correctly”. http://www.invisionapp.com/

          Invision’s website seems to use every aspect of what you’re against. Yet, it creates an “invitation to explore” the rest of their content and has a great navigational system in place that is straight forward, simple, and inclusive.

          National West’s design, however, implements a variety of useless animations that confuse users and sub-par typography design. They are an example of a corporation who wants to “jump on the band wagon”, so to speak.

          White space, typography, images, and colors in web design have to be carefully balanced in a strategy to create a great experience for users on desktops and mobile devices. It’s a difficult balance to attain, but it’s one for which we must strive if we want to create a great UX. Human psychology and sociology also play a heavy hand in creating a UI that allow these elements (if used correctly) to lead a user through the site, and there’s a vast amount of research there that a lot of designers don’t bother with.

          A large “pretty picture” can be a huge descriptor for the content that’s trying to be portrayed. Designers can use these large header images as a strong indicator of what that company, organization, or person is all about. Of course, this can be done lazily and incorrectly as well. Choosing an image that is unrelated is a bad move – regardless of the colors in and the quality of the image.

          All-in-all a majority of sites implementing flat design have done a poor job, but I don’t think that the problem is with flat design – it’s with the designers that are attempting to implement it. Perhaps it is laziness, but it could also be ridiculous deadlines (I’ve been in these situations before) and/or little to no research into UI/UX design, psychology, and sociology.

          • Tarian


            Thanks for the link to http://www.invisionapp.com/
            It is indeed “a great example of a website” ….. that represents the current disconnect between web-designers and Users (and it’s not especially “flat”).

            Sorry readers for the length, but this site contains at least 15 User-un-friendly features.

            1) The first view is dominated by a screen-filling picture – with fewer than 35 words (more of that later)

            2) Worse…. the photo is animated.

            There are so many tech forums where people ask how to block animations. People finding them distracting and annoying.

            Sometimes a carousel of photos is relevant (e.g. holiday villas) – but visitors should be able to control them.

            3) The pop-over advert

            4) The indistinct top “menu” . i.e. 6 plain text words with no border or shading to indicate an active link. Only “Sign Up Free” has a border – and red text.

            5) Lack of Contents” list – to whet the appetite and tempt exploration.

            6) Below the 4 large words are 8 words – but in a whispy, indistinct font.

            7) The only OBVIOUS link (1) is the bright pink panel “Get Started Here” – but with so little info in the first view – why would one even bother exploring???

            8) Below the photo is a row of 6 monotone, pale grey words and one unnamed grey logo – lazy and indistinct. What’s wrong with the logo’s original colours ?

            End of initial view – scroll one screen view

            9) Next is a large block of empty white space – which of course means that the Visitor will have to scroll even more – if he/she can be bothered. (I normally go elsewhere at this point.)

            Below this empty space are very few words – in just 9 lines in a narrow column.

            10) Worse – 7 of these lines are pale grey !

            11) This is compounded by over-large line-spacing

            Against the glaring white background, this combination (grey font and wide-line-spacing) the lack of contrast causes eye-strain as one attempts to focus on this indistinct text.

            What’s wrong with BLACK text ??

            (Again, there are plenty of Tech USER forums asking this question)

            12) Lack of pagination

            Four more of these (overly-white, minimal text, glaring) screen views. (Can one call these “pages”??)

            Lack of “page” length indicator creates uncertainty about how much scrolling is required – esp. when there is no consistency between websites

            Pagination gives clear, quantifiable info to the Visitor – certainty about how much scrolling is required – esp. when there is no consistency between websites

            13) The long “page” seems to end with another screen-filling photo – with a mere 7 words …”Invision is a faster way to certainty” – with somebody’s name underneath.
            (“Certainty”? Is he being ironic ???)

            14) Lack of OBVIOUS links (2).
            This HUGE photo has a video “Play” arrow – the only obvious link since the top photo.

            The “page” scrolls tediously on – with repeats of the un-friendly, work-making features:
            – Another section with pale grey logos in acres of empty, glaring white space
            – A screen-filling dark panel, again with very few words (i.e. little info) in an over-large font – inviting the visitor to supply an email addres

            But there remains one more poor design feature:

            15) The “footnote” list of plain text words, in columns and rows – again in pale grey.
            What are these for?
            They “might” be links – but the lack of highlights/emphasis says ” we don’t really want the Visitor to explore these”.

            Examples of recently un-friendly sites include Gov.uk, B&Q (diy.com), Barclays – but at least these have shorter pages or slightly better visual clues for links.

            So… Thanks again Curt for suggesting a site that, in its attempt to look “pretty”, contains all the faddish design features that require the Visitor to work, guess, – or leave.

          • Curt

            You’re assuming that each target audience is the same. Again, most of your points are nitpicking and based on opinion. A majority of users don’t want to read much when they’re looking at a website. You’re lucky if you can get users to read more than 25% of your website’s content. A smart use of imagery and video can allow you to use less text/copy. Most of the time, when I (and a majority of users) load a page that overwhelms me with text, I bounce – simply because I don’t have the time to read your website’s novel.

            Each client will have different needs. This is why I said “Let it be stated that I’m not a proponent of using ONLY flat design. Rather, use different styles to portray the vision and personality of the client or organization at hand.” If you’re selling health insurance, focus on copy and endless dropdown menus. If you’re selling a design prototyping tool, focus on design and keep things clean and to-the-point. It’s interesting how Invision’s design is driving so much profit (hundreds of millions of dollars per year) if it’s so bad and causes people to work, guess, – or leave.

          • Tarian

            If web design companies are making so much money – perhaps it’s the web-salespeople driving more business on the basis of “everyone else is doing it”.

            Today I checked the site of a self-employed gas engineer.
            It’s recently changed to “flat” with a HUGE screen-filling photo carousel (animation), large monotone panels that go below the fold (unlike before).
            I don’t believe HE said “Hey, I must re-design my website”.

          • Curt

            Their success can definitely be attributed (at least in part) to a sales/web team. Also, they’re innovating the space, so “everyone else is doing it” doesn’t apply to them. They have excellent hiring policies and a great team – further grounding my stance.

            As for your self-employed gas engineer – if he didn’t say “Hey, I must re-design my website”, then why did he change his website? Anyways.. It sounds to me like a quick response to a perceived trend. Jumping on a trend for it’s own sake is rarely (if ever) the correct move. Must I quote myself again? “Each client will have different needs”

        • Patti March


        • ScottMc76

          What’s the purpose of the page? Is it to present information or to convey a benefit, an emotion or a message about the philosophy of the brand. What you describe is an experience where form follows function. That’s great if you’re producing the web equivalent of a user’s guide. But what if you’re trying to convey something that can be demonstrated by a single photo that otherwise would take pages and pages of explanation? All banks have the same basic products, nearly identical rates, ATM networks, blah, blah and blah. But what makes them distinct, different, better? This is where brand expression becomes much more important than utility. This is where design needs to play a different role. It’s not about utility. It’s about experience and brand building.

      • gadsdengurl

        The world is not flat and our eyes did not evolve looking at flatness. Therefore our eyes become strained when trying to pick out details from a totally flat image. If flat is so natural, why not do away with photos and just use line drawings?

        • Curt

          I don’t believe that I ever said flat was “natural”. So your question that starts with “If flat is so natural” has no basis. Done correctly, it can be aesthetically pleasing to a majority of users. Regardless, I’m more of a proponent of material design. https://goo.gl/oPXUvN

          • Tarian

            “Flat” aka “minimalism” is “aesthetically pleasing” to designers … and con-artists who want to get more money for less work (detail).

            Is it not curious that a much larger cohort of customers buy stuff with detail in the design – even though magazines constantly feature /promote over-priced so-called “contemporary” stuff?

          • Curt

            Flat design and minimalism are not less work. If anything, it can be more work because you have to really think about the placement of content on the page, typography, and imagery that speaks for you instead of filling the page with crap that gets in the way and gets overlooked.

            P.S. Flat design and minimalism are two different design styles. Do some research before publicly posting an opinion.

          • Tarian

            “Flat design and minimalism are two different design styles. Do some research before publicly posting an opinion”

            I know you are trying to wind me up….;-)

            I’ve done plenty of research – and it all points to a widening gulf between web-designers and website visitors.

            “Flat” is clearly in the same corner as “minimalism”.
            So let’s be clear:
            “Minimalism” in furniture means “clean straight lines” – i.e. no additional work in shaping.

            On web pages it means “stripping out unnecessary (in who’s opinion?) detail”.
            In practice that means removing visual clues to aid navigation such as rounded tabs & buttons, borders, shading, underlines, background colour etc

            I will concede that “Flat” might include borders, underlines or rounded buttons & tabs….
            ……but the “in your face” features of “Flat” are HUGE monotone coloured rectangles – together with NO shading to give depth or curves for variety, interest and distinctiveness.

            In my book that is as near “minimalist” as makes no difference – and just as lazy and disrespectful to visitors and users.

            And please don’t use crude debating tricks such as your straw man argument of…
            “filling the page with crap that gets in the way”

            The alternative to “Flat” is NOT filling a page with “crap” – just much more info and visual variety than many (most?) recent web re-designs.

          • Curt

            I’m actually not trying to wind anyone up. We’re talking about web design, not furniture.



            My point is that realism and flat are BOTH valid design concepts, and there’s no reason to discount either one completely. Each design style has it’s own merit in the right places and in the right situations. By saying “filling the page with crap that gets in the way” I was implying that a majority of users will immediately skip over large blocks of text without reading them – thus rendering them useless to all but the 5% of users who read through them. It’s been proven, which is why these new patterns are emerging/have emerged.

            There’s no single way to design websites and applications.

          • Tarian

            Thanks again for providing links …. to websites that support my point.
            All four are minimalist to my eyes – AND flat.
            (Or are you going to take that lack of distinction as being my “ignorance” about design?)

            Both are appalling – in terms of lack of CLEAR navigation – but also aesthetic appeal (to me at any rate).
            Even scrolling a bit is depressing and off-putting, i.e. provides no incentive to explore – and the means (navigation) is uncertain anyway.

            The ONLY distinction between your Minimalist pair and Flat pair, is that the former are monochrome, the latter have colour.

            Please don’t take this personally…
            …. but the only reason I continue to add to this thread is that 99%(?) of websites are supposed to FUNCTIONAL – and “Flat/Minimalism” impairs function.

            Too many sites that I used to visit are now VERY User UN-friendly – (as others on this thread have said)…..
            …. and it is website designers that are responsible for this increasing disconnect.

            On the very rare occasions that a website owner actually asks its users about a re-design, complaints are overwhelming about loss of functionality.

          • Curt

            They are not the same. In fact, they’re blatantly different. Minimal websites are the newspaper of the digital world. They are, by definition, lacking design (In retrospect, http://minimalissimo.com/ doesn’t fit into either category). Fflat websites, however, have color and imagery to convey meaning and style as well other differentials.

            Flat/Minimalism design does not impair function whatsoever. How much more clear can the navigation be? You’ve slammed every website that I’ve posted because of your clear bias, and have yet to provide an alternative. The navigation on these sites is the same as a vast majority of websites using different design methodologies. The difference being in HOW they’re displayed – what they look like.

            Complaints about lack of functionality are, as I’ve said before (multiple times now), bad design and/or development work. My bank also recently switched to flat design, and they did not do well. They interface is unintuitive and lackadaisical. This isn’t a problem with the design style, it’s a problem with their interpretation and execution.

            I’ve said all that I can on this subject. My point is that there’s a time and a place for every style, and new styles should be tried and tested and none should be ruled out. That’s how the web evolves. If you want websites to crawl into a rut and never change, then you’re going to have a depressing future – full of complaint.

          • Tarian

            “You’ve slammed every website that I’ve posted because of your clear bias, and have yet to provide an alternative”

            Try these two:
            1) http://www.eaglesheds.co.uk
            2) http://www.hradkarlstejn.cz/en/

            1) My only criticism of the shed site is the uncontrollable photo carousel (but at least it’s not too fast)
            The very top has “icons” with DETAIL – unlike the infantile “flat” icons emerging recently. (Yes. I know they’re not Active – just pointing out the contrast in icon styles.)
            Navigation is VERY clear.
            Proper Contents down the left side – each itme espanding for sub-division.
            Just click on any link and most display in one view (or with very little scrolling)
            Layout is generally very good.

            2) My only criticism of the Castle site is the use of Times Roman – as serifs take a tad longer to read.
            Other than that, it’s close to my ideal site.
            Pages with a variety of panels for different purposes – inviting the visitor to take any of several paths – and NOT limiting the Visitor to a path chosen by the site owner (the shed site allows User-choice as well).
            The lack of glaring white background – and variety of coloured backgrounds – with colour gradients for texture – make it a more relaxed and pleasing experience.

            “If you want websites to crawl into a rut and never change….”
            Actually that would be preferable to USERS (apart from the pejariative “rut”) – assuming we’re taking about DESIGN and NAVIGATION.
            Of course CONTENT should be updated.
            As has been said so often about Microsoft’s constant OS revolution (for example) “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.

            Find designs that work (which the internet HAS done) – and stick to it !

    • gadsdengurl

      Well -said my friend! Apple has lost so many people over this.

      • ScottMc76

        How exactly has Apple’s decades long minimalist design philosophy harmed them in any way? Every other tech company has attempted to compete with them and failed, not because their tech is less capable. In many cases, such as Samsung, they’re devices are actually more capable. What sets Apple apart and has allowed them to dominate is that they have a core design philosophy and they stick to it, both in their physical product design and in their digital expression. Everything relates, because it’s all derived from a single well-defined philosophy (the “why” behind everything they do, as Simon Sinek puts it). Samsung hasn’t dethroned Apple yet because they haven’t decided who they really are. They don’t live and breathe their purpose and let that drive their design decisions.

        The problem with minimalist design as it is implemented by so many designers is that is nothing more than a gimmick. These designers are posers. They don’t really believe in the philosophy they’re emulating. They don’t understand why minimalism works or what it is supposed to accomplish. And so it accomplishes nothing. Apple gets it and always has, whether you like their brand or not.

    • Johnny B

      It seems to me I hear my own self!
      Flat design has really disintegrated any sense of beauty and creativity, regarding GRAPHICS!
      In the good old days of UIs like Windows Vista (I’m talking about graphics and UIs only NOT the OS itself) the user had a great time when working with his computer. Everything friendly and life-like. One could realize that the guys who had designed all these had really worked HARD…! Believe it or not, I’m still using Windows Vista, skinned perfectly with some great skins via WB. Anyway, if someone likes flat, that’s his own business. But he can’t say that flat is better than photo-realism. It’s like saying that a log is better than a well worked furniture.

      • ScottMc76

        You underestimate the skill and restraint that it takes to execute good minimalist design. What’s easier to write, a 500 word essay on a subject or a five line poem that perfectly communicates a feeling, a mood or a human experience? It’s the same with design. Filling the page with lots of visual tricks is typically a sign that you’re not a very experienced designer. With experience comes the understanding of when less is more. Restraint is something you don’t learn in design school. You come to it eventually through experience. Some of the best designers in the world put the fewest elements on the page, but each one serves a purpose to make the entirety of the design work together to achieve something greater than the sum of the parts. This is not a short cut. It actually takes much longer and requires much more skill than throwing up Photoshop tricks on the page.

  • Steen Brown

    I’m not a designer – I’m a business owner and user. I agree with Tarian, but I must add that the “Flat Design Is Going Too Far’ article itself requires needlessly excessive scrolling. It is much more readble at 50% zoom.

  • Matt

    Its like my bank and credit card sites. They widen the columns, make it double spaced, remove the grid lines and the background shading. Pretty soon you’re holding a ruler up to the screen to figure out which line the date, transaction & amount appears. Plus you have to keep scrolling, and scrolling, and scrolling just to see them all since they are so far spaced. Then you want to compare the transaction from July 5th to the one you made on the 18th. Before you could see them all on the screen at the same time, now you have to scroll through 3 screens just to see both of them. Try using Excel without gridlines…now do it when you are on a deadline and need to pull up that info fast…

  • gadsdengurl

    I hate how Apple’s Ives and Cook have destroyed the GUI of iOS and OS all in the name of flat. They have violated every HIG that Steve Jobs revered and cherished. Now they have violated every HIG imaginable as my eyes cannot see the damned text! I will never buy another Apple product until again they go back to the beautiful icons seen in iOS 6 and OS 10.8

    • Curt

      They haven’t destroyed the GUI. It’s very well done. I’m more of an Android fan myself, but iOS has a great interface.

    • ScottMc76

      Actually, you’ve got that exactly wrong. Apple’s GUI is finally beginning to resemble the design philosophy that has driven their product design for decades. There has always been a slight disconnect between the careful minimalist restraint in the physical products and the over stylized unnecessarily three-dimensional icons. It’s like the hardware guys and the software guys were designing from a different playbook. With the recent evolution of IOS, the interface and physical product design are finally beginning to get on the same page.

  • ScottMc76

    Design is a problem-solving tool. It’s not art. Art is art. Design is a means to an end. If the creative problem you’re trying to solve is to reduce complexity, increase utility or communicate a single-minded or simple message, then minimalist design is absolutely the way to go. Complex design is not “better than”. It’s just a different approach to solve a different problem. Typically a designer that makes something that’s inherently simple more complex than it needs to be is just attempting to hide his lack of a clear design philosophy behind a lot of visual distractions. The more complex the problem or message, the more simple the design needs to be. Most designers get that exactly backwards. Every element of a design should serve a purpose that helps the entirety of the page (product, widgit, whatever) accomplish more and communicate more than the sum of its parts. If an element doesn’t serve a purpose, it doesn’t deserve to be there. It’s working against the intention of the design and doing nothing to solve the problem.

  • Tarian

    Nielsen Norman Group seem to be well respected for evidence based comment on web design.
    Yesterday (8th Nov) they published:

    “Long-Term Exposure to Flat Design: How the Trend Slowly Decreases User Efficiency”see:>

    Messages include:
    “To know where they can click on a website, users need signifiers:
    perceptible clues that help them understand how to use interfaces. Blue
    underlined text is an example of a traditional signifier of a clickable
    link that even the least experienced web users understand.”

    “Flat design increased the popularity of designing clickable elements
    with absent or weak signifiers. Linked text styled as static text is an
    example of an absent signifier.”
    “A ghost button (text with a thin border and no background color) is an example of a weak signifier”

    “Users are forced to explore pages to determine what’s clickable.
    They frequently pause in their activities to hover over elements hoping
    for dynamic clickability signifiers, or click experimentally to
    discover potential links.”

    “….they’re still being forced to do extra work and are being distracted
    from their primary goals without gaining any tangible benefit.”

    (Having to guess what’s clickable)
    “If there is any delay between a click and a change in the system, users
    begin to wonder if the element was actually clickable and may give up.”

    The summary is spot on:
    “It’s ironic, then, that the misuse of these design styles (flat, minimalist) slows users
    down by forcing them to think harder about what options are available to

    The article includes positive (surely blindingly obvious) suggestions such as:
    “always using some amount of visual signifier on clickable elements”

    Hopefully designers will listen and return to helping web-users surf effectively.

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