When considering how you might want your new website or application to look, you should consider both flat design and material design. Flat design is meant to be simple and clean while material design builds off of flat design, but also adds more elements and textures one might find in the physical world. Although material design does not bring to mind skeumorphism, mentioned below, they are related – think of material design as skeumorphism’s better looking cousin. Both material and flat design create their own unique experience, which means there are some things to consider when determining which design language is best for your website and web audience.
Flat web design entered the digital world as somewhat of an updated answer to realist digital design. Realist digital design is an older digital design concept and works off of skeuomorphism, meaning it mimics objects found in the real world. There is no real functional aspect to realist design other than the fact that it can make the user more comfortable, specifically if that user is not technically savvy and is biased to real world objects.
For this same reason, realist web design has been phasing out in the last few years. Users are now growing up with technology and becoming more engaged with devices and technology earlier. They have become less reliant on actual real-life items and digitized items are more comfortable to them. Anyone 15 or younger is surprised to learn a phone used to be plugged into the wall of a house, yet rotary phone handsets, or pictures of them, continue to live on as the standard phone web design icon because so many still remember those handets from over twenty years ago.
Flat design is frequently being utilized to give these types of users a simpler, cleaner, and here is the important part, more digital experience. Flat design is minimalist, doesn’t use shadows, and relies on large spaces of solid colors. It is ideal to use flat web design if you are trying to get a message across quickly, or make your website as simple as possible to navigate, without much embellishment. Flat web design does simplify the look by subtracting uncecessary elements, however, the design can still be bright and vibrant, stylish and beautiful. In other words, simple does not necessarily mean dull.
Material design builds off flat design, but it adds depth. Humans are naturally cognizant of and responsive to depth. We need a simple experience to understand, but we desire more beauty, more liveliness, more animation. That’s what material design gives us. With more movement and animation it directs our focus. And as it doesn’t totally shy away from all of the elements that flat design rejects (i.e. shadows, images, etc.), it becomes more easily navigable and can create a more personal experience for the user. It even pulls from certain elements of realism, like light and motion. It relies on real scientific principles, but it never becomes so “real” that it is not inspiring and exciting, nor does it devolve into skeumorphic web design trends.
To design your website experience well, you will need an experienced designer who knows the differences between the many different design forms such as material and flat, and which works the best for your unique mission, message, and audience. Always remember, it’s difficult to escape the zeitgeist, especially in design, but with an experienced designer you can avoid fads and fashions to create a great user experience.
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