As a pancake

The flat vs. skeuomorphic argument is exhausting. Exhausting not just because it seems never-ending, but mainly because there haven't been many good cases for flat design (exhausting, as well, because everyone is using the term "skeuomorphism" when they're meaning "realism," but that's an entirely different issue). Interfaces have leant so strongly toward the skeuomorphic (again, meaning realistic) for so long and, while completely welcome to change, I just haven't yet encountered a pro-flat argument that hasn't come across as whiny and overbearing—essentially, "Anything other than flat is simply ugly and stupid!"—and/or hasn't done the research of what actually works best for the user.

We consider ourselves user experience designers and yet no one seems to be properly testing these design styles against each other to prove if one is actually "better" than the other in regards to the user (Do they really have a difficult time locating a button because it doesn't look shiny?). Perhaps there are articles out there written by people who have done such testing, but I have yet to come across any; so it seems most of these opinions are all based on speculation and personal taste.

Yesterday, however, I came across, Dare to Be Boring, the best reference I've read in regards to why flat may be better. Sure, its author, Henri Liriani, still hasn't done officially user testing, but it was a refreshing take on the direction flat is heading.

Liriani writes [in reference to first playing with the Rechner calculator app]:

"When I first [played with the app], I was amazed at how the screen didn’t feel trapped behind glass. It felt like the UI was on top of the phone. That’s fascinating to me because I think it’s the next step forward from where we began with our skeumorphic training wheels.

We have to wait on better screen tech to enable us to really touch the physical device with our UIs, but the notion alone is exciting. It makes iOS 7's depth via parallax, popovers, and blurs make even more sense. When you think about the whole device—not just the screen—as part of the canvas, you can make the whole UI feel more real, and not by making it imitate a real-world object, but by allowing it to be its honest self."

The concept of flat being able to float on top  of the screen is really what caught my attention. Even though flat may be stereotyped as lacking in surface texture that helps clue a user into how to use  the various features, if we can reach a point with flat design that it acts as Rechner does—where the app "feels" like you can actually touch and interact with it—then we don't need fancy faux-3D buttons and excessive drop-shadows.

Liriani's is honestly the first article I've come across that makes me excited for what could be achievable with this new take on interface design. Prior to reading it, I mostly saw it as a trend and nothing more; but now I can see how it has the ability down the line to take us to an entirely different dimension—literally and figuratively—where we may be able to interact with the flat "screen" in ways we can't yet comprehend. Instead of being sick of the so-called "trend" I'm now more excited than ever to see where it may take us.

Paige PauliComment