How bad is Flat Design?

Yet another horrible design trend from Microsoft

Flat design has been around for a few years now, and still maintains a strong presence in the work of some designers, but it is fundamentally flawed in several key ways. At it’s worst it provides no visual cues as to what the functionality is supposed to be or do. The argument by some designers is that the user should share the same mental memes as the user and just know how the buttons and icons work….and to a limited degree that works….a sandwich indicates a closed menu, X’s are close buttons, etc, but you just won’t know for sure how much coverage you have unless you test the product against the typical user, or even better, a broad spectrum of users. Our mantra here is that the User should never have to guess at how something works…if it’s not intuitive you are doing something wrong. This article gives some good information on the subject The gist of it is that people create mental models of the applications they interact with…mental models that are equivalent to physical models, so a button should look like a button if you want people to equate it to a physical button and press it. Microsoft has a slightly different philosophy where, using market share they bully you into learning their proprietary ways so that now you are vested in their software and way of doing things, and it’s something you can put on your resume because you’ve banged your head against he wall enough times using their software that you can at least appear to know what you are doing….even sell yourself as an “expert”, but for us that has always been the wrong approach….User first, User last, and User always…. A great book on the subject we’ve worn to pieces here at Webmaster Ninjas is Gui Bloopers where they point out a lot of mistakes in GUI design and websites. The book is getting a little long in the tooth, but the basic principles of psychology and human computer interaction are still the same because our brains are basically the same. So take a look at your abandonment rates…look at your goal funnel and see if you can optimize some of those steps and visual cues to make it easier to accomplish what they are trying to accomplish, especially on the mobile version of your application where it’s easy for the user to get frustrated. As the article mentioned points out… Flat Design 2.0 is a decent compromise…visual indicators, still looks clean, and if you are going to go in that direction that would be our recommendation.

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