Flat Design is In: Should You Get in on the Trend?

Written by Carrie Cousins on 03 Apr 2013
44,396 Views • Web Design

It’s all we’ve heard about for weeks now – flat design. It went mainstream in a major way thanks to Microsoft and the new Windows 8 and Surface platforms. Flat design is popping up all over the place, from websites to apps.

The simple-looking scheme has designers talking and considering changes to their sites.

But what is flat design? And should you try to jump on this trend now?

What is Flat Design?

Flat design is a technique in which designers use very limited or no effects when creating a design scheme. This end result is a design concept that lacks the three-dimensional feel and just rests on the screen.

Elements and tools such as embossing, shadows, feathers and gradients are not used in this type of design outline.

Simply, flat design is a method in which the designer lets elements “speak for themselves.” Objects and frames are designed to be crisp and sharp, often with hard edges (although some more rounded shapes can be used). Flat design often uses bright colors and large user interface elements to create a direct experience.

Flat is Not Always Minimal

Flat design is not the same as minimal design.

While both techniques do focus on simplicity, flat design is more about effects. Minimal design schemes often use many of the “tricks” that are not a part of the flat trend.

Flat and minimalistic design schemes often both use very few typefaces, but flat design can be quite busy. Flat design can be quite complex, from color palettes (which are often intense) to the user interface. Minimal design schemes tend to have fewer bells and whistles.

Why is Flat Design Popular?

It is simple and direct. Designers call the approach “honest” because what you see on a screen is not made to look like something more than that. Some of the biggest names in the business – Google, Microsoft, Facebook – use flat design techniques in their well-known interfaces.

Flat design is created to be usable. The design tells users what to do, from where to click to how to play a game to making a phone call. It relies on visual cues such as color and large type to help users find their way in an instant and without competition from other elements.

Also, flat design is quick. It allows the user to not really think about what they are doing (or trying to do) and just do it. This is not to say that other types of design fail at this; that is not true. Flat design, rather, is made to look fast and usable. It could likely reshape our thinking about mobile websites in much the same way Twitter has changed the way people get the news – one small piece at a time.

Great Flat Website Design

The number of websites launching and redesigning using more flat, or almost flat design schemes is growing each day. Here are five sites that are doing it well.

Great Flat App Design

Some would argue that the resurgence of flat design actually started with mobile apps and gained popularity when Windows launched its new products. Here are four that use flat design beautifully.


Tips for Getting Started

Because the whole point of a flat design scheme is simplicity, design with simplicity in mind. By going back to some of the basic principles of design, you can create a flat scheme with an intentional design and great user experience.

Use bright colors. Color choice is important. Flat design works best with bright, vibrant, bold color choices that help direct users from item to item on the screen. Select a monotone color palette with varying shades or use a variety of complementary colors for additional pop. While some designers have created flat sites around black and white, color can add extra emphasis and visual interest. Unlike some other design schemes where color palettes are best limited to a handful of hues, flat design often employs a wide range of colors. (Think six to 10 distinct colors instead of just two or three.)

Typography should be straightforward. Sans serifs are a great (and popular) option because they are inherently simple. Make sure text is clean and easy to read. Avoid novelty typefaces, unless they are part of your company’s branding or logo, and keep number of fonts to a minimum.

Text should be basic and direct. Not only should the text look simple it should be simple to read. Pay careful attention to the actual words so that what you say matches the visual theme. Stick to button labels that contain only one word if possible and use direct and simple language. Text should be concise. During the design process, have text edited heavily to reduce cluttered wording and unnecessary language.

User interface should be easy to understand. Whether on a desktop or mobile device, the user interface should work as simply as the design looks. Buttons should be easy to find and use. Instructions and navigational tools should be large and understandable.


Any type of design scheme that is made for the way people use information is going to trend. Whether it is flat design or something else, more users will turn to websites and apps that work with minimal thought.

What’s nice about flat design is that it has really re-energized the design community. Everyone is talking about it. Everyone is thinking about trying it – or not – and agonizing over why it is so trendy and what we can learn from it. The lesson is simple. It’s usable. And as long as flat design remains usable, it is a trend that will stick around.

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ATL 11 years ago
I'm afraid this flat trend, while nice, will lead to a lot of homogeneity in 2013. Many of these look the same. Same style. Same Gotham-y sans-serif fonts. Same solid boxes.
Alfred 11 years ago
I love flat design.
A good explanation.
orange county web designer 11 years ago
Interesting article. Flat design...simple, clean and excellent. Thanks for sharing.
ohgodno 11 years ago
Google Play was on target with this one.