Skeuomorphic or Flat Design?

Flat Design

The latest rage in Web site design is a style called “flat”, where the site does not have any three-dimensional effects (hence “flat”) and typically arranges information in flat panels.  This is contrasted with what’s called skeuomorphic design, that uses design elements that look like something from the physical world.  Examples of skeuomorphic elements would be the little trash can picture that we see for disposing of files, the paper envelope drawing that’s often used for email, or the old telephone drawing used to place a call.  A great contrast between the two design styles is illustrated by the iPhone and Windows phone UIs, shown below.


Of course, even the Windows phone has a skeuomorphic element, since it uses a drawing of a paper envelope for email, and a drawing of a paper bag for the store.  However, the contrast is clear; the iPhone icons each look like a three-dimensional button, and many of them contain images of items outside the computer to remind us of their functions.

I used the smartphones to demonstrate the difference in design styles because they do it so well, with one that’s full of skeuomorphism and another that’s almost purely flat.  But these examples are not a good basis for discussing which is a more effective design, because what works on a smartphone screen might not be the best design for a Web site.

Web Sites

Here’s a flat Web site design for a leading law firm, that emphasizes their KSP (see last week’s Newsletter for more about the KSP).  Someone who searches and comes upon this site has no doubt what the firm does.  The short paragraph below drives the point home, that the firm has recovered a huge amount.  If you’re looking for an expert on insurance recovery for your conference or news item, or if you’re looking for a law firm to represent you in an insurance recovery matter, you know that you’ve come to the right place.

Here’s a great example of a flat Web site design for a company that designs and builds applications. Here, too, the message is clear and compelling.

These are not complex designs, and they didn’t require extensive development of fancy artwork.  Advocates of flat design claim that fancy design elements that aren’t directly related to the message get in the way of the message, that they take attention away from the message that the page wants to convey.

The Bottom Line

If you’re planning–or even just considering–a redesign, ask yourself whether a flat design would enable your site–and your home page in particular–to convey your message more effectively.  Remember that a first-time visitor will give your home page just seconds before deciding whether to stay and look further or to move on.

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