It’s time the Flat vs Skeuomorphic Design debate grew up

Flat Design has been a trendy topic of discussion in design circles of late. While some have extolled its virtues as a panacea to the overly skeuomorphic application design of say some of Apple’s previous incarnations of it’s core apps such as Calendar, Contacts, Game Center, etc., or websites that are over bloated with 3D effects that weigh down the experience — especially when trying to access them on small screens or slow connections.

But I think it’s important not to reduce this argument down to base comparisons that become as reductive as ‘Black vs White’ or ‘Good vs Evil’. As is often the case, the ‘truth’ lies somewhere in the murky grey area between these polar opposites.

I’m viewing Flat Design as more of a trendy backlash…or a Reset Button if you will for some design choices that have gone way overboard on 3D or skeuomorphism. As I teach in my Web Design tutorials, Flat Design is just one extreme of a pendulum of design sensibilities and the better choice for Ux is often somewhere in the middle.

While Microsoft has gone extremely flat in their design choices of late, I think they’ve lost a lot of usability in the process. Some of the more enlightened design language I believe is being practiced by Google in a lot of their recent UI makeovers that pepper flat design with skeuomorphic elements that ‘pop out’ and grab your attention when needed, or Apple with their upcoming iOS7 and it’s 3D use of layers to differentiate functionality, in an otherwise deceptively flat UI design. As users have become more sophisticated and familiar in navigating digital interfaces, naturally some of those elements that needed ‘spelling out’ before can now be backgrounded or even eliminated.

Just as we as users have ‘grown up’ in our instinctual understanding of UIs, so should this debate of one extreme of design vs another.