Is everything flat enough yet?

This is an example of writing I’ve done for Brand-Directions.

Welcome to design in 2014. Everything is flat. I’ve read several blogs documenting the current trend towards “flat” design, but not many explaining how we got here and whether or not it’s a good thing. Before we get too far, flat design is the absence of things like drop shadows, highlights and gradients. It is, well… flat. While I like much of the flatness out there, I think the movement is an overreaction and a lesson in how designers can depend too much on their software for inspiration.

When computers took over the design world only the simplest features were available. But when software like Photoshop began to mature, several extra features were added and subsequently abused by designers. In the late 90s, Photoshop made it very easy to add things like drop shadows with a single click. Now there’s nothing wrong with a drop shadow in itself – but drop shadows, bevels and gradients started to show up in logos for no other reason than they were easy to add. For a while nothing was flat. But the pendulum was going to swing even further with the iPhone!

The golden age of non-flat design happened with the rise of the iPhone. The icons for iOS and other Mac products were super, duper glossy and semi-3D looking. These kinds of effects took a bit of talent to reproduce. It couldn’t be achieved with a single mouse click in Photoshop. Until very recently, this uber-glossy look was all the rage. But the pendulum had swung too far.

Microsoft has never really been considered a thought leader in design, but as their mobile products developed, the design community took note of the radically minimalistic design. No gloss. No shadows. Even round corners were too much! Just the bare minimum was needed to convey the message. Others followed and when Mac released i0S 7, the flat design movement was in full swing. But have things gone a little too far?

The flat movement has been a good kick in the pants for several brands that needed to simplify their look. But what if your logo was already simple? Visa recently changed their already simple logo by removing the only color differentiation it had.

Was that really necessary? While we must pay attention to current design movements, a brand’s image shouldn’t be changed just to make it trendy. A look should be carefully evaluated to remove outdated elements, which may or may not require a radical change. You should try design beyond the current trend. Don’t aim for flat or any other style. Aim for timeless. Because before you know it, the pendulum will swing in the other direction.