The USS Quad Damage

Flat design as a movement

The ignorance is astounding.

I’ll keep this short. It seems like a lot of people think that flat design is not important as a movement, and there are “deeper things” that need to be thought about. This is bullshit.

Every movement has an intrinsic visual style, whether it’s impressionism or modernism. Pooh-poohing the visual style is fundamentally misunderstanding the movement. Flat design, or “authentically digital design” is based around a simple observation:

Computers can do things physical objects can’t.

When Microsoft talk about flat design, they have made it clear that this is in fact what they are talking about. That it looks dumb when you visually depict something as a page, which it is then possible to scroll. But more importantly, it is not genuine to visually depict that object as a page when the software defines it as something else.

Sure, software has metaphors like files and folders and saving, but flat design raises questions: is the metaphor needed or is there a better way? It makes clear the idea that the metaphor being represented is authentically represented in the bits of the program, not just in the presentation. If “design” is “how it works”, then “flat design” is “representing how a computer actually works”.

Because the thing is, you can talk about affordances and the shape of the handle on a spoon, but it’s important to realise that in a computer, there is no spoon. There are two things you need to consider as a designer:

  1. The metaphor used for the application (in the code of it, not just the presentation) ought to not be limited to the way the physical world works, and
  2. How do I best represent the metaphor that’s actually been coded?

That’s flat design as a movement.