Remember the days when drop shadows reigned supreme and bevels were everywhere? If you're an Apple user those days were pretty recent up until the latest iOS 7 release in September 2013. Now Apple has jumped on board the growing trend of flat UI design. While flat UI design has been building since 2006, the trend really exploded in 2013. Websites and apps are tossing out their 3D buttons and icons, for simple, stylized icons and vibrant color pallets. So why the change in style? Is flat design a trend or the way of the future?

Several factors contribute to the success and adoption of flat design.

As technology and the internet have expanded, the way we connect and process information has become more cluttered. We are now looking at multiple streams of information on screens ranging from the size of a smart phone to a desktop monitor. We continually evaluate information and create content. Flat design helps to streamline and reduce the overwhelming visual impact of that information. A simpler design also helps create a simpler interface for the user to interact with.

Content shift
Since flat design allows for simpler design elements, which are arguably less visually distracting, content now jumps back to the forefront. These days there is a huge amount of focus being placed on inbound marketing. Good content is key to successful inbound marketing, and a flat design helps content to shine brighter.

Technology familiarity
Once upon a time the internet and apps were something that we thought only the younger generation could handle. In today's world however, the use of technology has almost become second nature. Whereas we used to think a button should leap off the page in order for people not to miss it, we now recognize that users are more familiar and comfortable interacting with technology. Those "cue" elements no longer have to be as in your face as before, allowing them to meld more seamlessly with your design and content.

As previously stated, users now view web content on a variety of devices. In order to stay competitive, most companies are optimizing their digital content for ease of use across these platforms. Flat design plays into this by allowing for:

  • Minimal design, which decreases file weight
  • Smaller image file size, which optimizes download time
  • A flexible grid layout

These attributes have helped make it easier for web content to render more effortlessly from device to device. They also integrate very nicely with the responsive design methodology.

Knowing why flat UI design has become more prevalent, you may be wondering "Should I jump on this train?" Before you decide to go flat consider whether a flat UI is beneficial to your audience. For example, if you were developing a children's site or an online game, you might want to use more realistic/3D graphics. Remember, following a trend without knowing your audience can be detrimental to achieving your desired results.

While flat design has many benefits in today's current technology climate, only time will tell if this is truly an innovation or just another cycle of design aesthetics. In the meantime, test it out and have fun with it. Check out this article on getting started with flat UI design: Who knows, it could inspire you to come up with the next UI design trend.