Is flat design ruining your career as a designer?

Barin Cristian Doru

I think flat design is great and it was a necessary step in our industry. It’s made us focus on the function rather than the form, and with that came a lovely simplicity in our work.

Yet as time goes by and this trend continues to stay strong, I believe that in the end flat design may jeopardize designers’ careers. Let me explain…

1. Flat design is great… for mobile user interfaces

Let’s not forget that we first saw a form of flat design with the Metro interface. The idea was mainly thought out for touch screens, even though it went on desktop computers.

Windows 8 start screen (via Wikipedia)

The next big step for flat design was iOS7 which was highly embraced, although skeptics were in the many (you can read all about that here). iOS8 continued on with the same trend.

iOS7 icons (via Deviant Art)

The latest evolution is Android’s Material Design – flat design 2.0 if you will. This is where flat truly shines: in circumstances where you need to perform an action fast, without any additional decoration or embellishments. The relative small screen sizes don’t allow intricate and highly detailed touches.

Google style guide
Google style guide

When we’re using our phones or tablets, we want to perform an action fast and then move on to the next thing. This is why Material Design will rock our Android mobile experience. It will become the standard because it allows you to get more done in less time. That’s why it feels so natural.

We’ve established this is where mobile devices are certainly heading, but how about the rest? Unless you’re a designer specifically focused on mobile UI and UX, you might be jumping on a wagon that’s headed to a dead-end.

2. Flat design requires less skill

And that’s the truth. It’s not easy – don’t get me wrong – but when you compare flat design to its now neanderthal brother, skeuomorphism, you quickly understand the difference in skill that’s required.

Trophy and medal icons
Trophy/medal icons (via dribbble)
App icons
“Woodsy stuff” (via dribbble)

These are all nice, but now let’s see what the “old”skeuomorphic design style has to offer:

by Zaib Ali (via Behance)
by haneep
by weirdeetz
by Joekirei
cake app icon
by Zaib Ali (via Behance)

As you can imagine these require a lot more attention to detail, knowledge and experience. And these examples are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so many incredible galleries out there that you may end up wanting to uninstall Photoshop and become a plumber.

Designs like this are what I looked up to when I got started as a designer. The amount of skill required baffled me. It intrigued me. And most importantly, it motivated me. I worked hard everyday and I strived to be able to create something that looked even close to this.

3. Flat design can’t be mastered

Today, designers see flat style everywhere. Since it’s so requested by clients, that’s what they focus on. They don’t work on perspectives, shadow depth or reflections. Instead they create the same old icon sets, sites and interfaces.

by Karen Dessire (via dribbble)

I’m not trying to take anything away from flat design. That’s why I mentioned that I liked it from the get-go. Yet I worry designers will stop practicing and improving their craft by jumping on this trend, finding out too late that there’s no depth to it (pun intended).

It will never be an end goal that you aspire to reach after years and years of hard work and refinement. Try your hand at skeuomorphism and you’ll find that it’s a challenge that can never be replaced. Not the style itself, but in the continual pursuit of perfection.

Suitcase app icon
by Ramotion (via dribbble)

What do you think of the flat design trend vs skeuomorphism? Do you think it might lower the overall skill level of designers?

The author

Barin Cristian Doru
Barin Cristian Doru

Barin Cristian Doru aka 'thislooksgreat' is an experienced web designer and proud member of the 99designs community: Besides creating awesome website designs, he is also an entrepreneur, an Android App Developer and a content creator. His work ranges from freebie PSD files to small tips & tricks in Photoshop, all the way to a premium 16 hour long course on how to succeed on 99designs.

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