Flat design is totally ubiquitous in the digital design world. It could be argued that flat design really hit the mainstream with the release of iOS 7 in 2013 – this release of Apple’s flagship operating system eschewed the skeuomorphism – digital representations of physical elements – that had become so commonplace in Apple’s iOS user interface.
Since then, there has been a widespread adoption of flat design, especially in UI/UX design. Google’s Material Design is another great example of this trend in the UX world, using bright colors, flat, simple designs, and easy-to-understand buttons and interfaces to encourage a simple, brilliant user experience.
Flat design isn’t just limited to UI and UX applications – an ever-increasing number of graphic designers and illustrators are incorporating more cartoony, flatly-designed images into their illustrations, especially as the website and user interfaces that surround the content that we consume become more flat, and lose their skeuomorphic qualities.
But flat design has proved controversial – many claim that flat design is confusing, boring, and overused. It’s certainly quite prevalent in almost all web-based and digital design applications today, so it’s very possible that the overuse of flat design principles, cartoony illustrations, and two-dimension iconography are on their way out, or will be soon.
But what’s next for digital design? What will replace flat design, if anything? And when?
What’s Next For Digital Design?
This is the most interesting question of all. It’s hard to predict exactly what will happen in the future of digital design – but we’ll try anyway.
Digital design is, at its heart, extremely adaptable. The methods by which UI, UX, and digital illustrations and content are created are all shaped by the needs of the current climate, industry standards, and the methods that are used by tech companies.
This means that the “next big thing” in digital design probably won’t just appear on its own – there will be a company, or multiple companies that promote it.
Think about it – Flat design really became commonplace after Apple released iOS 7, Microsoft released Windows 8 and their “Metro” UI, and Android adopted flat-styled Material Design. Flat design didn’t come out of a vacuum – these huge companies spurred widespread adoption so that web content and digital designs would look suitable on their devices.
So the next big innovation in digital design is not likely to come from a lone UX expert or graphic designer working in an office somewhere. It’s being built by a huge company like Google or Apple. And if it’s released to great success and accolades, you’ll see the industry to follow soon.
What Could Replace Flat Design?
It could be argued that flat design takes things too far – eliminating a huge amount of detail from iconography, design elements, and illustrations by reducing them to simple, pastel-colored, two-dimensional images.
Obviously, this is a response to the overdone, heavily-realistic illustrations and UI/UX designs of days past – think about how dated the first several versions of iOS look, or how old a UI interface like that of Windows 7 looks compared to a modern, smooth operating system.
Flat design totally torched realism, and replaced it with a functional, modern UI and illustration language that’s easy to use – but lacks the detail of realistic, skeuomorphic design.
If we had to hazard a guess as to the future of digital design – and what might replace flat design – it would be some kind of hybrid system.
This hybrid illustration style and UI/UX design would use the best of both elements, both of flat and realistic design. An increased level of detail for icons and illustrations could be much more visually pleasing when combined with the smart coloration and minimalism that flat design has caused the digital design industry to adopt.
This approach is already being seen in some graphics that are developed by icon designers. Bold, flat illustrations meet smart coloration to create an icon that maintains a simple, flat profile, yet hints at a three-dimensionality that’s uncommon in the world of flat design.
Flat Design Has A Long Way To Go
We’re probably not going to be out of the era of flat design for a long time – and when we finally do leave it, we may not even realize it. Flat design is incredibly useable and very popular – but the rapid shift away from skeuomorphism has left behind some useful design elements that we think are sure to make a comeback.
As time goes on, most major companies will probably begin incorporating higher levels of detail and skeuomorphism into their UI and UX designs – this shift will be gradual, and may not even be noticeable for quite a while.
So whether you’re a flat design lover or you loathe the cartoony, 2d images and UI that flat design brings to the table, strap in. You’re not going to get rid of it any time soon.