In the past decade, there has been a push for realism and textures on websites. This can be really useful for grabbing the attention of users who aren’t accustomed to using websites. It can make end-users relate to an online application if it mimics its real life counterpart. An online organizer application that looks like a real leather binder with metal rings and stitching would have been used to wow people with texture. But, that’s not quite as useful anymore. We are no longer in the days of the Wild Wild Web.
Realism on the web is a little unnecessary now as we have never been more integrated with the Internet than we are today. With the half a billion websites that currently exist, it’s probably safe to say that most people within a mile of a computer have been on the Internet. So, why keep the gaudy graphics that were meant to make people comfortable with online applications? Instead, we can now wow them with performance, sleek styles, and easy on the eye designs. Not to mention the many other benefits.
What is Flat Design? It’s the use of a minimalist user interface (UI) that doesn’t contain stylistic enhancements which simulate three-dimensional objects such as: shadows, textures, gradients, or beveling. I’m going to walk you through some of the benefits of using a Flat UI that will ultimately entice users to engage your web application.
Faster Load times
This is the main advantage of using a flat UI. Because the concept of flat design requires fewer design elements making it lightweight for the device browser, there is less to load for the page, which will earn brownie points for your users on slow connections such as public wi-fi hotspots or even Dial-up (Yes that still exist.) This is a fast paced world we live in today. Why should I have to wait for your web application to load all your fancy buttons and graphics?
Some browsers, like Chrome, even have built in features that will pre-load webpages that it predicts you might visit because even Google knows that end-users are impatient. Because Google knows this intimately, if I get a slow search result when I use Google, I know it’s because my internet connection is having issues. In the following New York Times article, one of Google’s engineers explains the importance of speed and performance on the Internet. One of the driving forces behind the flat design movement is the desire to provide blazing fast load times to users.
The most efficient way to get your web application on multiple platforms is to incorporate a responsive design. What this means is that your entire UI is flexible and scalable allowing your web application to fit and stretch to practically any device without the need of multiple versions of your application being deployed. Why does this relate to Flat Design? Well, because flat design pairs with responsive design so amazingly, you would think they were invented together. Because flat design has a less is more principle, this means you have fewer features that you need to make responsive. In addition, because your design is light, the client’s browser has no performance issues when needing to resize due to the user trying to multitask from a desktop or a mobile device has just been rotated. Flat Design and Responsive Design go together like peanut butter and jelly, mac and cheese, or even milk and cookies, but you get the picture right?
Less is more! This one is to steer you from hyper realism. If you remove realistic features that mimic real world objects, you don’t run into the issue of users clicking or touching parts of your UI that aren’t meant to be clicked. Users can sometimes be overwhelmed when there’s a lot going on in front of their eyes. Simmer down, remove the fluff, and give them only what they need. Ok, maybe you paid some graphic designer a lot of money to render a 3D paper-clip that hangs around the side of your application to give you advice. If you ask me, I’d say that sounds distracting. Just give me a simple flat, easily illustrated question mark floating on the side or in a utility section that I can interact with if I need help.
The simplicity of a flat design, if done correctly, can still be considered intuitive. This is where the designer needs to diligently remove graphical details while still keeping the design intuitive when creating a flat design. “Users may see flat designs as intuitive, but designers need to help users cross the knowledge gap” as stated by UX Magazine in this excellent article about making flat designs Intuitive. Closing the knowledge gap in flat design is what can make the UI feel natural and easy to use versus feeling ambiguous or alien to what we currently know and understand.
Save Your Users Some Money
Chances are if you have a SaaS(Software as a Service) website, your client is there because they need the services that you provide. That’s why they are paying you right? Don’t force them to upgrade their mobile data package because you want to wow them with special effects. They really only need the functionality and simple beauty. In today’s mobile world, data packages are already expensive enough, forcing users to monitor their data usage. If your users notice a large portion of their daily data allowance coming from your web application, you might notice a decline in customer retention.
Save Yourself Some Money
A lightweight design requires less code and less time creating assets. No need to formulate gradients and drop shadows for your design. Graphic designers don’t need to add beveling, shimmers, or heavy photo editing for your media assets when all they need are vibrant colors and smooth edges. All members of your design and developer teams will spend less time building your masterpiece, which translates into less money on resources.
All in all, flat design is trendy, fast, responsive, lightweight, and absolutely beautiful when using best practices. Both your customers and your company will truly benefit from a flat design for your web application. Take a leap forward and join the bandwagon, it’s ok we won’t judge you. But we will judge your website and you will receive accolades for your achievement of constructing a masterpiece of the new digital era.