Complete Guide to Flat Design With Six Concrete Examples
Last update: 21 June 2022 at 11:51 am
Increasingly present in web and mobile interfaces, flat design is a style of graphic design very pure. Today, it is increasingly found in user interfaces (UI) and web design developed by companies.
In this article, we explain in more detail what flat design is, where this trend comes from, and we give several concrete examples.
Before getting into the heart of the matter, we can advise you on the best graphic design agencies.
What is flat design?
Flat design is a style of graphic design characterized by its minimalism.
Flat design is based on an aesthetic and a sober style, with simple forms, modern typography and a composition with legible elements.
The flat design is therefore characterized by a visual purification. To do this, we remove all superficial elements of interfaces. Shadows, reflections, various effects (smoke, shine, particles, etc.), details and more go out the window. The goal of this style is to have as few elements as possible and to remove the frills from a page (for example).
The very term “flat” design refers to this absence of volume: it is based solely on 2D images.
This graphic style, used by a growing number of websites, is an evolution of the artistic currents emerging in the 20th century. In particular the Bauhaus movement, which appeared in Switzerland around 1920.
The Bauhaus was already characterized by :
- its minimalism,
- its colors,
- its important contrasts,
- its optimization of the occupation of space
- and its use of simplified symbols rather than real images.
This design style has evolved and is now used by many designers and graphic artists to create :
- User interfaces
- Web pages
The characteristics of flat design
We know what flat design is, but how can we be sure to recognize it?
There are several elements that do not deceive:
- Transparency effects on the different graphic elements,
- Shapes and geometries inspired by the Bauhaus movement,
- No relief or depth on the design,
- Well defined colors,
- Very little analogy with real world objects represented by flat design.
These 5 elements should help you recognize flat design for sure.
Flat design, heir of skeuomorphism
Flat design is often associated with a bright, solid color palette. Patterns and gradients are rare.
Flat design is often compared to its 2000s counterpart, skeuomorphism. This one is based on intuitive graphic representations.
Flat design is distinguished by its simplicity. Where skeuomorphism creates an association between a functionality and a known visual (which serves as a landmark and reassures the consumer), flat design focuses on the effectiveness of its visual.
Flat design plays with pre-established associations in the collective mind through skeuomorphism. Its objective is to simplify this visual information in order to keep its essence.
A very good way to see the difference with flat design is to compare iOS 6 and iOS 7. Indeed, it is with the launch of iOS 7 that flat design really started to develop.
Material design and semi-flat design: cousins of flat design
The popularity of flat design has given rise to alternative graphic trends. The two most popular are material design and semi-flat design. They are often confused with flat design.
Material design is a trend that seeks compromises between flat design and skeuomorphism.
Material design is a form of web design that is characterized by a middle ground aesthetic. Ideally, it benefits from the readability of flat design and the intuitiveness of skeuomorphism.
This trend was born out of protests against flat design, which was considered too simplistic and not representative enough.
Semi-flat design, on the other hand, is a variant of flat design using minimalist 3D to highlight certain elements, such as a call to action for example. Some see it as a kind of optimized flat design, at the expense of the purity of the image.
Semi-flat retains the high-contrast, colorful look of flat design, with its simple shapes.
However, the addition of 3D allows the creation of more complex images.
The application of flat design
Broadly speaking, flat design is commonly used in web and mobile interfaces, as it is strongly associated with a modern aesthetic.
In recent years, the flat design trend has even become standardized: it has become an aesthetic standard, whether for sites or even for a blog.
Brands also use it a lot in their logos. For the last ten years, we have seen a trend among brands to simplify and purify their logos. This is particularly the case in fashion, for example.
It helps to modernize the image of a company or a digital product.
In this sense, the flat design participates in the visual communication of the companies that use it. We advise you to work with a graphic designer if you want to do the same.
Why use flat design?
There are several reasons to use flat design in your graphic charter.
Here are the two main trends to know:
- Flat design is more pleasing to the eye and more modern,
- It allows to simplify a user interface and therefore to simplify its use experience.
Beyond that, flat design also accompanies a certain digital maturity that is taking hold. Skeuomorphism, which we mentioned earlier in the article, has allowed users to become familiar with the new digital tools.
Today, we have reached a stage of digital maturity that allows us to use cleaner designs without compromising a good user experience.
Thus, we recommend you to use flat design to simplify your UI, improve your UX, and adopt a design in the era of time. In the examples below however, we’ll focus on logos, above all. And for this, there’s no doubt that a graphic designer or a logo graphic design agency can help you with this.
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6 good examples of flat design
Managing your company’s visual identity requires inspiration.
We give 6 examples of flat design in the following section. You can also check out our complete guide to design to learn more.
The Google logo
Since its first logotype was designed in 1997, Google has continued to refine it. Over the years, the main structure has remained the same: the 6 letters of the Google search engine name, written in colors. Since 1999, each letter has kept the same color.
However, we observe a gradual disappearance of all superfluous elements. First, the exclamation mark disappeared in 2000. The shadows disappear in 2010. The volumes disappear in 2013.
In 2015, with its current logo, Google opts for a simplification of its typography: the “o’s” become perfect circles, the “l” is now a simple vertical bar, etc.
The evolution of Google’s logo shows an increasingly obvious desire to clean up.
The Twitter logo
The example of Twitter is interesting, as its logo became more complex before becoming more clean again with the flat design trend.
Originally, the Twitter logo established in 1998 already represented a blue bird. It is recognizable by its shape, as it has no shadows, volumes, or details outlining the feathers or beak. Only a white dot represents the eye.
The logo becomes more complex in 2007, with the appearance of wings and a different color on the belly of the bird. In 2009, the logo looks like a cartoon character. The legs are of a different color, the beak too, the eye is filled with a pupil with a reflection and details (like the presence of an eyebrow) are added. This is the expression of skeuomorphism: the logo looks more and more like a real bird.
By 2010, the company is backtracking, adopting from one year to the next an extremely clean logo. It is now just a bird silhouette filled with the same blue color. Twitter still has a use for its logo based on this pattern.
Twitter’s logo truly shows a divide in fashion and aesthetics. The year 2010 is a pivotal year, where we see the end of skeuomorphism and the transition to flat design.
The logo of the application Mail from Apple
The logo of the Apple Mail application is a perfect example of the transition to flat design.
The old logo of the Apple Mail application represented an envelope in order to reassure users. With this technique, the goal was to indicate the function of the application (the exchange and storage of emails) by representing a universally known object used for a similar function.
Thus, the functionality of the logo is immediately associated with a virtual letter correspondence.
From this point of view, it makes the approach to the application intuitive to new technology novices. A clear sky surrounds the envelope and fills the frame of the logo.
Today, the logo has adapted to the trend. The human eye and brain still recognize an envelope in the logo of Apple’s Mail application, while in itself it is now just a rectangle with three lines of the same color as the background. The latter has become uniformly blue, reminding the original sky.
Modern UI, the Windows user interface
In 2012, Microsoft adopted a new aesthetic for the user interface of its new operating system: Windows 8. This interface, dubbed “Modern UI” or “Metro”, represents the essence of the trend.
The Modern UI presents a clean interface, composed of squares and rectangles nested within each other. Each one has a bright color, different from its neighbors. The whole thing looks perfectly tidy.
This interface is an excellent example of flat design, as it brings out a real modernization of the aesthetics. It also has a practical side, because the compartmentalization of applications optimizes the ergonomics of the interface.
Moreover, the interface can display many applications without losing the user. The icons of each of these applications use flat design. So the Modern UI itself has a flat design but presents applications with the same design, which helps to reinforce this feeling of purity.
Dots, a website in the image of its games
Dots is an American mobile game company. For its games, Dots uses flat design as the main support for the art direction. Note that the flat design is quite appropriate for mobile interfaces, which have fully benefited from its development.
The Dots website is just like its games: clean, contrasted, clear, and sober, it benefits from great readability.
The site also limits its resources in line with the codes of flat design: no animation, no superfluous details, everything is very simple.
Above all, it contributes to the coherence of the whole visual identity of the company. The company applies flat design everywhere: in its products, in the aesthetics of its website, and in the design of its logo.
This allows it to build a strong visual identity, which strengthens the attachment of its players, the brand’s ability to capture their attention, and helps make it more recognizable.
The Instagram logo
Finally, the last name and example we can cite: the Instagram logo.
What once started as a fully fleshed-out Polaroid camera has become simpler and cleaner over time. Since 2016, all details have disappeared, there are no more shadows or reflections.
Even a camera is actually no longer visible, and yet users know exactly that it is one, as it has been established in the previous designs. The rainbow colors, which were previously placed in the upper left of the logo, are now represented in parts in the background instead.
How do you make a successful UI using flat design?
Now that we’ve seen several examples, what are the rules for using flat design well?
In our opinion, there are several best practices to follow:
- Make sure you have consistency between your brand identity and the design you will be implementing.
- Select a color palette that is relevant to you, your brand, and your audience.
- Find a way to highlight the most important elements for reading your interface.
- Choose a limited number of icons so as not to lose the user.
In addition, an important element is to ask yourself if flat design is really relevant for you. Indeed, a mistake would be to decide to use it because it is the standard today, without asking yourself if it is really relevant for your brand.
To succeed, don’t choose flat design because it’s the norm. Choose it because it makes sense for your brand, your name, your website and your customers. Indeed, it doesn’t apply to all brands or all industries.
So take the time to ask yourself questions about your brand, your industry, and your customers before investing in building your design.
Finally, we can advise you to work with a graphic designer and a graphic design agency. They will be able to accompany you in all these steps. If you are a graphic designer yourself, invest in a good laptop for graphic design.
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On this page, we have seen what flat design is, what is its style, how to use it and presented 6 concrete examples of its use.
That said, if you want to know more about graphic design, you can read our complete guide on graphic design and working with an agency.