Recently a client asked “why do website buttons no longer look like buttons?”. Of course, they were referring to ‘flat web design’, a trend in small business website design. Flat design is found popping up in a variety of places these days, from iOS7, to Windows 8. Flat design for your small business website provides a modern, minimalist look if used correctly, yet as seen by the question above, it can add unnecessary confusion if used incorrectly. The decision to employ flat design (if done properly) is ultimately a function of personal preference. If you feel that flat design if for you, go for it. Otherwise, do not feel pressure to conform.

flat design

According to an article from Six Revisions, “Like any good UI, a good flat design should make usability the topmost priority. Flat design aesthetics need to go hand-in-hand with usability. And if a decision had to be made between aesthetics and user-friendliness, the latter should be prioritized over the former.”

So you have decided to embrace the flat design trend. You probably have lots of questions. When is flat design, good design? How does implementing flat design change the way your website will function? Why has flat design become popular? What kind of issues are facing the implementation of flat design? Let’s address a few.

When is flat design, good design?

To begin with, we need to understand that flat design is primarily an example of continued simplification in the tradition of form follows function. “No more gradients, drop shadows, and textures. Just beautiful typography, simple icons and shapes, vibrant colors to help establish visual hierarchies, and, most importantly, a deeper attentiveness on ease-of-use.” Good use of flat design simplifies the user experience, but only to the point it improves website usability.

Does flat design change website function?

Some websites interpret flat design as an attempt to remove depth altogether. We believe effective flat design can provide a clean, efficient interface while retaining the website depth of structure. Consider this a balanced approach or as Six Revisions calls it, “Almost-flat” design. The balanced approach to flat design provides the advantages of simplification in the tradition of form follows function, but helps to avoid the pitfalls of oversimplification and user interface usability issues. A balanced approach often means not having to drastically change your small business website function.

Why has flat design become popular?

Certainly the release of Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS7 and Microsoft’s Windows 8 have had a large influence in leading the way towards flat design. Equally strong is a desire to optimize the load time of websites in general, but specifically on mobile platforms such as smartphones and tablets. Flat design is also an opportunity for a new generation to make their mark on what many see as a shift from desktop to mobile-centric computing.

Are there issues facing flat design?

Even Apple had some interface usability issues with the flat design of iOS7. “Before iOS 7′s release, Apple addressed some usability issues such as updating the slide to unlock function with an arrow pointing to the right to gives users a better visual cue, and they have tweaked the color gradients for the Safari and Mail icons so the operating system’s app icons are more cohesive.”

Not to be left out, Microsoft now allows users to bypass their flat design interface completely. “And Microsoft just released Windows 8.1 which will allow users to bypass the Modern UI interface entirely, going straight to the desktop version instead.”

Like most small business website design trends, flat design has its time and place, fans and detractors. The progress toward enhanced usability is always a good thing. However, websites employing flat design need to be aware that some audiences may struggle with the interface if it is taken too far. Good quality assurance usability testing, A/B testing, and close attention to analytics can help avoid these issues altogether.

Contact Scherr Technology small business website design for your next small business website.