Flat design is a minimalist UI design genre, or design language, currently used in various graphical user interfaces (such as Web sites or Web applications).
Definition and purpose
Flat design is a style of interface design without any stylistic elements that give the illusion of three dimensions (such as excessive use of drop shadows, gradients or textures) and is focused on a minimalist use of simple elements, typography and flat colors.Designers may prefer flat design because it allows interface designs to be more streamlined and efficient. It is easier to quickly convey information while still looking visually appealing and approachable. Additionally, it makes it easier to design an interface that is responsive to changes in browser size across different devices. With minimal design elements, websites are able to load faster and resize easily, and still look sharp on high-definition screens. As a design approach, it is often contrasted to skeuomorphism and rich design. (Though it should be noted that flat design can and does use skeuomorphs just a much as a realistically designed UI can).
In the 1980s, computer-based user interfaces were a foreign concept to most users. The use of skeuomorphic elements (such as a button) helped to create a visual link between a familiar object (such as a physical button on a calculator) and a digital object (an area of the screen that can be ‘pressed’ like a real button). Some feel that skeuomorphic design affordances are no longer as necessary.
History of use
Flat design owes its inspiration mainly to three styles of art, which are the International Typographic Style (also known as Swiss Style), Modernism and the styles emerging from Bauhaus.[ The International Typographic style is often considered the most substantial influence on flat design and its emergence and popularization during the 1950s and 1960s is regarded as the starting point of flat design, although it would not make an appearance in the digital world for some time thereafter.
In 2006, Microsoft released the Zune mp3 player which contained elements of flat design. The design of the Zune was clean and simple with a focus on large lowercase typography, silhouette-style logos, and monochromatic backgrounds. Microsoft continued this style of design with the 2010 release of Windows Phone 7 which built on the flat design elements introduced with the Zune. The design was dominated by large and bright shapes accompanied by sans-serif typography and flat images. The very clean look was completed by having the menu appear in a grid-like pattern. Because of the success of the Windows Phone 7 design, Microsoft released the Windows 8 operating system based on Metro, with the same flat design elements. Again, the design is dominated by grid shapes, sharp edges, bright colours, and clean typography. Microsoft has since moved its current products to the Metro design language, including the Xbox 360, Microsoft Office, and the Microsoft website.
In 2013, Apple released iOS 7 featuring flat UI design elements, moving away from skeuomorphic design.