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User experience and ‘flat’ graphics. 20.10.13

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All of those with apple i-phones can relate to eagerly waiting with anticipation for the release of the new operating system ios7 and the much talked about ‘flat’ iconography. Flat iconography/graphics is an ideal that simplifies the design by relying more on typography and less on graphics. This creates a flatter look, which has been adopted by big brands to increase usability and user interaction with products. However flat design can be problematic because all elements are at the same level in the Z-axis of the 3D space, so it can be more difficult to create a depth perception.

With the focus and efforts on user experience and content; flat simplistic graphics is almost always the result, reverting back to the basics of design as a functional tool ‘function over form’. Simplifying how the user interacts with the interface being the priority. Google used this to push their brand forward, minimizing the use of gradients, shadows, patterns, and textures which can bring a design to life but in excess can clutter a piece of design and thus unnecessarily complicate the user experience.

Improving the user experience is not only about simplifying the user experience or making it look flat. Those two are simply the methods that have been used to increase the usability and push focus to the content.

Apples Jony Ive-driven ‘flat’ design that replaced the skeuomorphism of earlier iOS versions, dropped all ornamental elements within the design. However they weren’t leaders with this approach surprisingly Microsoft started this with their metro philosophy it was microsoft that were the leaders in this new application of design, design language defined by reductionisms that extends to 5 core elements that drive product design and delivery, seen by some as a backlash against the popular skeuomorphic design that Apple kicked off.

Skeuomorphism means “making stuff look as if it is made of something else”. In this context, it is represented in Apple’s previous iBooks app which resembled a cheap pine bookshelf, for example, and its Notes app resembling a yellow legal pad with lines and a margin.

Apple took the ‘flat’ approach visually to compliment the new ‘lighter and faster’ method to its operating system/apps, where it also states in the new apple iOS7 guidelines that you are to avoid splash screens ‘or other startup experience.’ Focusing on the idea that apps in the background should wake up before you use it bringing in enough current content to allow use instantaneously. Flat graphics is not for everyone and because windows, google and now apple are implementing it has become a ‘trend’ it does not mean it is right for your business – so don’t go out and tell your design consultancy that you have to have ‘flat’ graphics. ‘Flat’ graphics is a solution to a problem, to improve user experience and usability of a product by focusing on good quality product and content. Letting the product and content shine through without distractions from other UI or page elements thus ensuring a smoother and simpler over all user experience. Could this be the future of user interface design – with all the big players adopting it.

Jameila Alhaji Thomas