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Monday, August 12, 2013

Sexy Skeuomorphism vs. Functional Flat - fighting the fads

Recently you can't seem to have a random google without bumping into the new fad on the block - 'Flat' design.


First championed by Microsoft's ill fated Windows 8 and adopted by android smart phones and tablets in their droves, the clean, no-nonsense 'Flat' design ethic is spreading like a Pantone marker on tissue paper.  Originally flooding the world wide web world wide it now seems to be leaking into print design. Now Apple have further added to the 'Flat' mix in their recently re-vamped iOS7 design with the inclusion of Parallax and Transparency.

The current arguments pitch Skeuomorphic design (the iOS inspired addition of faux texture, life-like visuals, real world mock material) against Flat design (clean representation, no-frills, simple shades and flat colours) in a battle of the Fads, and at the moment the Flat's on fire!


In the red corner (with bevel edges and lighting textures - sfx: loud boo's interspersed with muffled claps)... Skeuomorphism!
Skeuomorphism developed through the need to direct the user towards the design intention.  Adding style hints to direct and manipulate the viewer.  Making a button look like a button, a notepad look familiar and clichéd. Giving a rich interactive experience that is recognisable.  Sometimes to better effect than others (iPad Game Center is a prime example of tacky Skeu'ing)...

The problems become evident when over use of gaudy textures and fake cosmetic techniques gang together to date and confuse.

And In the blue corner (with flat tone and lack of texture - sfx: loud cheers interspersed with muffled boo's)... Flat design!
Flat design aimed to cut through all of that and transplant an honesty and cleanliness that seems refreshing and structured.  Employing no gradients, bevels or shadows it champions a no dimension approach to layout. But, like our old friend Skeuo', it can be mis-used. Stripping out the user experience from the designers toolkit and creating a clone like repetition.  When badly executed, many a website interface becomes a series of bland blocks and depthless colour.

Where do we stand? As designers we feel the Flat mantra most closely fits in with our design philosophy, a minimalist, stripped back approach that seems to echo the tightrope we tread throughout many a client's 'plan of action' meetings.

But surely throughout these pros and cons, when arguing the opposing pugilists' virtues and vices we are missing the point - it's the client, their aims, their targets, their needs that should drive the designer.  What we as creatives should be asking is "how can I get my client's message out there in the clearest, most effective way?"

Skeuomorphism and Flat design must be elements in a designer's toolkit, used when appropriate, unwrapped for each client in each unique situation, adaptable and fluid.

Maybe we should find a middle ground, a 'Skeuoflatism'.  Taking the best of both worlds, Flat's minimalism and simplicity and Skeuo's user friendliness and descriptiveness.

Good design shouldn't be towed behind 'fads', it should be pushed forward by the desire to reach its individual end destination.

What are you're thoughts on this battle of the Fads?
Who's going to win?
Or is the ultimate winner the Design?

Mark Fletcher
Graphic Designer


  1. hi..Im college student, thanks for sharing :)

  2. Nice comparison between with two kinds of design. It's interesting to read. Could we add some your points of view in our new post with a link to you.

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and knowledge on this topic. This is really helpful and informative, as this gave me more insight to create more ideas and solutions for my plan. I would love to see more updates from you.

    Melbourne Web Designer