Design Fashion: Flat design for flat screens

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Filed under: Graphic Design

Design Fashion: Flat design for flat screens

The fall fashion weeks showed highly textured fabrics with geometric patterns and shapes. The year’s graphic design fashion, however, is decidedly flat. Flat does not mean uninteresting and boring. It means direct, clean, minimal, and readable with a high-tech edge.

Apple’s new iOS7 is flat. You can clearly see what “flat design” means in these snips from the iPhone running under iOS6 and iOS7. Before the Apple release, Google launched a new version of its logo. It’s flat.


The Gizmodo blog, in speculating on the flat factor for iOS7, gives a good summary of the design trend in “What Is Flat Design?” It was the third thing I read on flat design, and as a journalism school grad, I knew I had a trend.

What’s even more interesting is that these technology leaders are following a trend created by a technology company not lately known as a design powerhouse: Microsoft. Windows 8 is flat.


Windows 8 grew out of the Windows Phone 7 OS, the first major appearance of the flat Metro design language. Metro, as Gizmodo says, “values typography—or the delivery of information—over graphics, that help the user understand what type of content they’re reading.”

In Microsoft’s words, it’s “fast and fluid, immersive, beautiful, and app-centric.”

Flat design is not new, Microsoft notes, but grew from a story of 20th century design history. In creating the flat Metro design style, the company’s design team took as influences modern design (as in Bauhaus), international typographic style (as in Helvetica and Univers) and cinematic motion design (as in credits by Saul Bass), writes Steve Clayton, editor of Microsoft/next, in “Modern design at Microsoft: Going beyond flat design.”

Microsoft sees flat design as one point in an evolution toward “authentically digital” design. Software interface design (OK, “user interface” design) works best when it goes beyond the physical, as when calendars scroll beyond the month into a flowing time stream, with the months indicated but not set as they were on paper. To quote from the Microsoft article:

In software, traditional visuals such as beveled buttons, reflections, drop shadows and the use of faux materials such as simulated wood grain, brushed metal and glass are attempting to mimic real-world materials and objects. Microsoft is pushing those notions aside — our designers are celebrating the fact that software is digital and made of pixels and elements such as typography, color and motion-enabled experiences that aren’t possible in the real world. As content comes to life, the user interface gets out of the way.

Scroll through Clayton’s article, an interesting online reading experience because it moves horizontally, rather than the traditional digital vertical scroll. It’s also a living digital piece. In the months since it first appeared, it’s been updated to mention Widows 8.1 and last summer’s xbox release.

Need more evidence that our our visual world is trending to flat? Flat design has been moving beyond technology. From the packaging world, this beer display in a Jewel supermarket back in September shows flat design in print:


Several years ago, the Goose Island goose logo looked nicely 3D. Now for the 25th anniversary it’s not only flat but black and white. The other two brands (all local Chicago, by the way) are all flat as well.

The world is indeed getting flatter. Check  back in a few days for more examples of flat design online and in print.

Additional Sources

“When design turned flat,” a post in the New York Times BITS blog.

“Designing for Metro style and the desktop,” a blog post in the development of Windows 8

“Designing Metro style: principles and personality,” a 2011 talk at Microsoft’s BUILD conference.