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Authentic Design

The recently popularized flat interface style1 is not merely a trend. It is the manifestation of a desire for greater authenticity in design, a desire to curb visual excess and eliminate the fake and the superfluous. [Links checked May/01/2017]

In creating new opportunities, technological progress sometimes leads to areas of excess. In the 19th century, mechanized mass production allowed for ornaments to be stamped out quickly and cheaply, leading to goods overdecorated with ornament. A similar thing occurred in recent years, when display and styling technologies enabled designers to create visually rich interfaces, leading to skeuomorphic and stylistic excesses.

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

In its desire for authenticity, the Modern design movement curbed the ornamental excess of the 19th century, making design fit the age of mass production. Today, we’re seeing the same desire for authenticity manifest itself in the “flat” trend, which rejects skeuomorphism and excessive visuals for simpler, cleaner, content-focused design.

The Birth Of Modern Design Link

In 1908, Adolf Loos, an influential Austrian architect, wrote an essay provocatively titled Ornament and Crime. The modern ornamentalist, he claimed, was either a “cultural laggard or a pathological case. He himself is forced to disown his work after three years. His productions are unbearable to cultured persons now, and will become so to others in a little while.” Even more boldly, Loos asserted, “The lower the standard of a people, the more lavish are its ornaments. To find beauty in form instead of making it depend on ornament is the goal towards which humanity is aspiring.”

What triggered such an attack on ornament? To understand the mindset of this pioneer of modern design, we must first form some idea of the state of design in the late-19th century.

The advent of the steam engine ushered in an era of mechanized mass production. As the art critic Frank Whitford writes, “Steam-driven machines could stamp, cut and fashion almost any substance faster and more regularly than the human hand. Mechanized production meant lower prices and higher profits.”

But while the method of production shifted from hand to machine, the style of goods did not. Most every product, from building and furniture to fabric and cutlery, was adorned in an opulent coat of ornament, built upon the grand spirit of the Renaissance.

authentic design - An inkstand The Great Exhibition
An inkstand showcased at The Great Exhibition of 1851, a celebration of the best manufacturing from around the world. The use of ornamentation here is extreme but not atypical.

Historically, handcrafted decoration has been expensive to produce, serving as a symbol of wealth and luxury. With the advent of mechanization, imitations of those same sought-after ornaments could be stamped out cheaply and quickly. Rather than stop and think about what sort of design would be best suited for mass production, manufacturers jumped at the opportunity to copy historicized styles at low cost. The result was the flood of garish, low-quality products that Adolf Loos, along with other pioneers of modern design, railed against.

In The Decorative Art of Today, famed architect Le Corbusier bluntly asserted that trash is abundantly decorated, and that, “The luxury object is well-made, neat and clean, pure and healthy, and its bareness reveals the quality of its manufacture. It is to industry that we owe the reversal in this state of affairs: a cast-iron stove overflowing with decoration costs less than a plain one; amidst the surging leaf patterns flaws in the casting cannot be seen.”

Montgomery Schuyler, an influential critic and journalist, condemned the heavily ornamented 19th-century facades, saying, “If you were to scrape down to the face of the main wall of the buildings of these streets, you would find that you had simply removed all the architecture, and that you had left the buildings as good as ever.”

Harrods store building
Harrods’ current building in London was completed in 1905 to the design of architect Charles William Stephens. The facade is typical of Victorian architecture. (Image: Michael Greifeneder)

Louis Sullivan, the architect known as “the father of skyscrapers,” called for restraint by suggesting, “It would be greatly for our aesthetic good, if we should refrain entirely from the use of ornament for a period of years, in order that our thought might concentrate acutely upon the production of buildings well formed and comely in the nude.” Below is an image of one of Sullivan’s buildings. The ground floor is decorated, but the upper floors are surprisingly modern for a 19th-century design, especially when contrasted with Harrods’.

Sullivan's Carson Pirie Scott store building
Louis Sullivan’s Carson Pirie Scott store was originally designed in 1899 for Schlesinger & Mayer. The simplicity of the upper floors here is striking for a 19th-century building.

During the 1920s, a new movement emerged in Germany known as the untranslatable word Sachlichkeit, which has a sense of “factual,” “matter of fact,” “practical,” “objective.” The Neue Sachlichkeit movement in the field of design sought pure utility. German architect Hermann Muthesius explained how this idea of utility could be applied to style, to produce something he called Maschinenstil, or “machine style.” In his own words, we find examples of this style in “railway stations, exhibition halls, bridges, steamships, etc. Here we are faced with a severe and almost scientific Sachlichkeit, with abstinence from all outward decoration, and with shapes completely dictated by the purposes which they are meant to serve.”

Instead of attacking ornament, other pioneers of modern design focused on elevating functional form on a pedestal. In 1934, an exhibition curated by modernist architect Philip Johnson was held at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, titled Machine Art. On display were various pieces of mechanical equipment, such as airplane propellers and industrial insulators. The idea was to highlight beauty of form in objects that were purely functional. For the modern design movement, decoration was not necessary. Beauty and elegance were to emerge from the design of the content itself, not from a superficial coat of decoration.

Slutzky teapot
This teapot was designed by Naum Slutzky, goldsmith, industrial designer and master craftsman of Weimarer Bauhaus. The clean, utilitarian design has not a trace of ornament — an almost mathematical solution to the given problem.

It took much of the first half of the 20th century for the Modernist movement to prevail, but eventually traditional styles and techniques were surpassed by newer approaches. In his book Twentieth-Century Design, Jonathan Woodham notes that the Modern aesthetic was characterized by “clean, geometric forms, the use of modern materials such as chromium-plated steel and glass, and plain surfaces articulated by the abstract manipulation of light and shade. The use of color was often restrained, with an emphasis on white, off-white, grey, and black.” Modern design had shed its opulent coat of ornament and instead sought beauty in a harmonious fusion of form and function.

It would be wrong to suggest that the Modern design movement on the whole can be characterized as anti-ornamental. New styles came and went, such as the popular movements of Art Nouveau and Art Deco. Some styles, such as Futurism, pushed for an exaggerated technological aesthetic, while others, such as De Stijl, sought harmony in a limited palette of colors and shapes. But underlying the outward shifts in style was the steady movement away from needless ornament, a movement towards a cleaner, more restrained form of design whose beauty lay in the style and shape of the content itself, rather than in external decoration.

Digital Ornament Link

If we compare the history of modern design with our short history of software and Web design, a parallel can be seen. In the same way that mechanized mass production resulted in an overuse of ornament, so did advances in display and styling technology result in the heavy use of decoration in software interfaces and websites. Designers in the early years of the Web were especially explorative on this front, using animation and sound together with images to produce excessively rich and often garish experiences.

Early operating systems with graphical user interfaces were still fairly basic in their look and feel. Granted, real-world metaphors were used where they could be, such as for images of folders to denote file directories and buttons with bevels to let the user know they could click on them. But the overall aesthetic was fairly flat and restrained. Regardless of whether the designer wanted to deliver a richer visual experience, the low resolution of the black and white displays limited them.

Mac OS 1
Using only two colors for the first Mac OS graphical interface, Apple managed to convey depth, textures, buttons and icons that mimicked real-life objects. The appearance of the interface was constrained by technology, rather than by the designer.

As technology evolved, designers were granted greater visual freedom with their interfaces. With Windows XP, Microsoft introduced a colorful style throughout, giving it a somewhat physical appearance, with plenty of highlights, shadows and gradients.

Apple went even further with the release of Mac OS X, styling the interface with shiny plastic bubbles, brushed aluminum and lifelike icons. As time went by, the visual styling of operating systems grew in intensity. Microsoft gave Windows a shiny, transparent glass-like theme, while Apple introduced even more materials and skeuomorphic cues into its desktop and mobile systems, such as leather textures in its calendar app and realistic page-turning effects in its book reader.

Windows Vista
The Windows Vista interface featured the Aero theme, with its shiny, glass-like window chrome.

Styles that imitate real-life objects and textures are said to be “skeuomorphs” — that is, design elements based on symbols borrowed from the real world, for the sole purpose of making an interface look familiar to the user. Recently, designers have started questioning the logic of styling a notes app as a paper pad, or of adding leather and page-turning effects to a calendar app. These effects provide visual interest, but they are also relics of another time, relics that tie an interface to static real-life objects that are incompatible with the fluidity and dynamism of digital interfaces.

OS X calendar
The current version of OS X’s calendar features a stitched leather texture and torn paper edges to give the appearance of a physical calendar.

With the latest release of Windows 8, Microsoft took a brave step away from such superfluous visuals, attempting to give its operating system a wholly digital and, in its words, “authentic” look. The latest interface is built upon the principles that Microsoft developed for its earlier mobile release, presenting the user with an aesthetic that is almost wholly devoid of textures or imitations of real-life objects.

Instead, Windows 8 relies on typography, spacing and color to bring order and elegance to the digital canvas. Real-life effects and superfluous styles are discarded, and all that is left is simply the content itself. Much as Muthesius once submitted railway stations as examples of Maschinenstil, the designers at Microsoft point to examples of railway station signs as inspiration for the new Windows interface, previously known as “Metro.”

Windows 8 live tiles on the start screen
Windows 8’s start screen breaks away from the old desktop design, being composed of flat, colorful live tiles, instead of icons. The tiles are not merely a stylistic choice: They allow useful information to be displayed on the start screen in the manner of a dashboard.

The Web has seen a similar transformation over the years. Early table-based and Flash-based designs gave developers pixel-perfect control over their interfaces, and so designers did not hesitate to create visually rich containers for their content. As we began to grasp the fluidity of the new medium and to disconnect presentation from content using CSS, Web design became more restrained. Highly decorated containers could not change their width and positions easily, so designers used fewer images and relied more on simpler CSS styling to make their layouts more adaptive and easier to maintain.

The latest evolution of responsive design (which is to adapt a single page to suit various screen sizes and devices) as well as the move among designers to work directly in code from the start, skipping visual editors such as Photoshop, moves us even further towards a simpler, content-focused Web aesthetic, one that derives its beauty from typography, spacing and color rather than from a heavy use of textures and decorative images.

Most recently, Apple, the leader of skeuomorphism, has taken its first step towards digital authenticity with the latest release of its mobile operating system, iOS 7. Gone are the stitched leather textures and ripped paper edges, replaced by a minimalist, mostly flat interface, with colorful, simplified icons and semi-translucent surfaces.

Comparison between Apple's iOS 6 and iOS 7 interfaces
Apple’s iOS 7 is a radical turn away from skeuomorphism. The old design of iOS’ Calculator app is on the left, and the one for iOS 7 is on the right. The grainy texture, bevelled buttons and shiny glass are all gone, replaced by a mostly flat, functional interface.

Authentic Design Link

What ties the pioneering days of Modern design to the current shift in software and Web design is the desire for authenticity. This drive towards greater authenticity is what moved designers to scrape away ornament from their work over a hundred years ago, and this force is what is moving digital design today towards a cleaner, more functional aesthetic. But what exactly makes design “authentic”?

Authentic design aims to pierce through falsehood and do away with superfluousness. Authentic design is about using materials without masking them in fake textures, showcasing their strengths instead of trying to hide their weaknesses. Authentic design is about doing away with features that are included only to make a product appear familiar or desirable but that otherwise serve no purpose. Authentic design is about representing function in its most optimal form, about having a conviction in elegance through efficiency. Authentic design is about dropping the crutches of external ornament and finding beauty in pure content.

In authentic design, style is not unimportant, but it is not pursued through decoration. Rather, beauty of form depends on the content, with the style being a natural outcome of a creative solution. As Deyan Sudjic commented on the design of the iconic Anglepoise lamp, “How the lamp looks — in particular the form of its shade — was something of an afterthought. But that was part of its appeal. Its artless shape gave it a certain naive innocence that suggested authenticity, just as the early versions of the Land Rover had the kind of credibility that comes with a design based on a technically ingenious idea rather than the desire to create a seductive consumer product.”

The Anglepoise lamp
The design of the Anglepoise lamp is an ingenious solution to a real problem. But the resulting form, which is an effective solution, turns out to have its own aesthetic allure.

In digital design, authenticity means a few things, which can roughly be summarized as the following:

  • Embrace the digital look.
    We do not have to mimic textures such as metal, wood and leather on a computer display. They are not what a digital interface is made of, so pretending that it is makes no sense. This does not mean that a design should have only plain flat backgrounds colors — rather, it means we should not try to imitate or be restricted by textures from the real world.
  • Do away with skeuomorphism.
    A digital book need not imitate physical paper as one turns the page, nor does a note-taking app need to look like a physical paper pad, with a leather cover, torn edges and a handwriting-styled font. Skeuomorphism is not always bad, but it always introduces needless constraints on the interface. For example, while a paper pad is static and one dimensional, a digital interface need not be; but as long as the interface is made to imitate a paper pad, it has to bear the constraints of the physical metaphor.
  • Make the style content-centered.
    Focus on the content rather than on its styling and decoration. You might think this point is trite, but how many times have you seen an off-the-shelf theme on a website? A theme is always built on dummy content and so, by its very nature, could never be an optimal representation of the content it will eventually hold. Building themes with dummy text pushes the designer to focus on styling and decoration, rather than on content, because there is no content yet to work with. Only when you work with real content can you begin to truly transform function into form.

Not Minimalism Link

Design whose beauty lies in function is not the same thing as minimalism minimalist style. With the former, the designer seeks to remove the superfluous, to make the product easier to understand, to make it perform better and to make the most of its medium. The latter seeks to create a minimalist aesthetic, to give the object an aura of simplicity and cleanliness. One is a fundamental principle of design, the other a stylistic choice.

Flat UI
The Flat UI6 theme kit, by Designmodo, is an outward representation of the underlying shift towards authentic design. But as a style, “flat” is a choice, not a necessity.

It would be a mistake to rigidly apply a minimalist design aesthetic to an interface as a style in the hope of making the interface simpler and more digitally “authentic.” For example, ruthlessly eliminating visuals such as shadows, colors and varied background styles would not necessarily make an interface easier to use. In some cases, it would achieve the opposite by undermining hierarchy and focus, which were established by those very shadows and background colors.

Outlook 2013
Outlook 2013’s interface was updated to fit Windows 8’s modern theme. But with the interface being flattened, all of the content and menus were merged onto a single white plane, becoming more cluttered as a result.

In The Laws of Simplicity John Maeda posits, “The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction. When in doubt, just remove. But be careful of what you remove.” The final warning is important. Removing things often leads to simplicity merely because the user has fewer items to process. But removing visual cues that help the user mentally process the interface — such as graphical elements that group items, that differentiate buttons and labels and that make things stand out — could do exactly the opposite by giving the user more work to do. So, rather than guide the design by style, guide it by principle.

Why Authentic Design Matters Link

The Rise7 app is a perfect example of digitally authentic design. The alarm clock is a problem that has already been solved, but Simplebots decided to tackle the concept from scratch, rethinking the interface in the context of a purely digital canvas.

Rise app
In the Rise app, the user sets the time with an innovative full-screen slider, with the background color changing to reflect the color of the sky.

Rise’s interface features a full-screen slider, with a background color that changes to reflect the color of the sky at the time you’ve set. It shows no attempt to mimic a physical clock or a physical slider or real-life textures. Instead, the designers have fully embraced the touch canvas of the mobile phone, creating an experience that is designed from the ground up to make the most of its medium. The innovative design not only makes for a great user experience, but elevates the app above others in the marketplace.

An interface like Rise’s is only possible when you tackle a design problem wholly within the context of the digital canvas, rather than by translating solutions from the real world. The digital screen allows for abstract forms, animation, bright colors and uniform shades. It need not be limited to a subdued palette or static representation, nor must it be bound to skeuomorphic forms. By figuring out how best to represent content using the pixel grid, we can arrive at better, simpler solutions, innovative interfaces that feel at home on the screen, designs that provide a better user experience and that stand out from the crowd.

The recently popularized “flat” design style may be a trend, but it is also the manifestation of a desire for greater authenticity in design, a desire to curb superfluous decoration and to focus on the content itself. Technological progress sometimes leads to excess, as mechanized mass production did in the 19th century when ornament became overused, and as display and styling technologies did during the early years of Web and software design. But ornamental excess was curbed over time by the pioneers of Modernism, who sought beauty in function, and today’s excesses in software will in time be curbed by an underlying desire for authenticity in design.

References Link

  • Bauhaus, Frank Whitford (2010: Thames & Hudson)
  • Twentieth-Century Design, Jonathan M. Woodham (1997: Oxford University Press)
  • Pioneers of Modern Design, Nikolaus Pevsner (1991: Penguin Books)
  • The Language of Things, Deyan Sudjic (2009: Penguin Books)
  • The Laws of Simplicity, John Maeda (2006: MIT Press)


Footnotes Link

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Dmitry Fadeyev is the creator of Usaura, a micro usability testing service, and the founder of UsabilityPost, a blog about good design and user experience. Additionally, you can read his thoughts on design, art and practical philosophy over at his personal blog.

  1. 1

    Fergus Hadley

    July 16, 2013 12:51 pm

    Brilliant piece. Web design is so often viewed as divorced from real-world design but this piece brought everything together in an informative and well-thought-out way. Thank you.

  2. 2

    That is one hell of a post! I got more confident in designing and enlightened the way ahead.

    Thank you!

    • 3

      James Bryant

      July 17, 2013 5:22 pm

      There’s nothing enlightening about the fact that the author completely ignored over half a century of postmodernism, not to mention the end of modernism ( to validate his point of view.

      This is not an article about design, it is an article about style.

      • 4

        antonio starnino

        July 18, 2013 3:31 pm

        James, Pruitt-Igoe, didn’t bring about the end of simpler architectural, graphic and industrial design principles, it brought about the end of the religion of Modernism. The aesthetics that modernism created still persist today. The analogy between the shift from ornamental in both the beginning of the 20th century and now the beginning of the 21st, is a valid one. Post modernism, came as a reaction not FOR the ornamental but against the cult of modernism that had entranced designers in a strict-reductive mindset. If you look at the work of Mies van der Rohe, even today his buildings are subject to set restrictions (People who live in Westmount Square in Montreal cannot have different color exterior blinds they must all remain white

        Post Modernism, characterized by ‘Less is a bore’ was more about lifting the restrictions of Modernism has so adamantly set, and embracing themselves in exploring different forms, colors and shapes. But it took decades before reaching this point and it only came after Modernism had not given up its rather strict ideology. So your right he might not have mentioned post-modernism because the digital world hasn’t experienced it’s “post-modern” period yet, its still working on exploring the current shift, which when used in context is very much still “form follows function”.

        Of course you never fully explained why he should have talked about Post-modernism, so your welcome to do so :)

        • 5

          James Bryant

          July 19, 2013 7:16 am

          I agree with most of what you said Antonio, when I say end of Modernism I mean, how you elegantly put it, the end of it’s ‘strict-reductive mindset’. Postmodernism is essentially an extension of Modernism, I wouldn’t disagree. It’s not a case of one or the other.

          I think drawing a parallel between the Victorian and Modern design/architecture and the current state of digital design is pointless. But I’ll entertain that thought for a moment, do you think it would be worth mentioning postmodern architecture if that’s the narrative the author has decided to take?

          It feels like either the author was completely unaware or just ignored it entirely because it goes against most of the points he tries to make in favour of ‘digital authenticity’.

          We live in a postmodern world. We live in a global culture that uses symbolism, reappropriation, metaphors, simulacra and metonyms everyday, all of which are traits of postmodernity, so yes I think it’s worth a mention if the Author is talking about modernism as if it’s the current state of collective design culture.

          I much prefer David Barnard’s point of view –

          I just wish the term ‘digital authenticity’ would go the way of the Pruitt Igoe.

          PS Both of those calculator examples are skeuomorphs! A better example would be Soulver by

          • 6

            Antonio Starnino

            July 20, 2013 2:48 am

            I understand your perspective. In the context of this article however, I believe he was only really making the comparisons on the basis of design maturity, and not necessarily by any aesthetics. He used Flat Design as an example but I think the comparison points just shows how, similar to early 20th century, we are entering into a time where we are shedding any superfluous design not only because its a trend but as part of a greater philosophy behind developing digital design principles that will hopefully aid the user and not detract. So looking beyond the atheistic but also at the functionality. For example the “Form Follows Function” adage in modern design helped modernists design products that were inspired by their core functionality and context, that then allowed the form to be dictated by that. The example of Rise is a good example of this, in a more contemporary, digital, context.

            So using this we are still entering a more “Modernist” phase in digital design maturity. What this phase will be called in the design history books is still to be determined (hopefully not flat), but once we begin to start to be comfortable designing with core context and functionality in mind I believe as designers will be more able to extend beyond that and really push the type of boundaries post-modernists tried to achieve.

            Now if your talking about a greater design culture, it begins to get more complicated. We aren’t just the remnants of Post-Modernism we are starting to embrace a number of design philosophies that date across multiple time periods. Yes our “remix” culture closely resembles post-modernism, but there is a whole other side to design (and even digital design now) that pulls from the art’s and crafts movement of william morris. The A & C movement’s main philosophy was largely against mass production embedded into design, to create something that is well crafted and unique. So the “Slow” movement can be seen as extensions of this and has become as engrained into the wider contemporary design culture as post-modernism has today.

            In sum, it’s not that I think he chose to ignore it, it’s just that for the purpose of his point, it makes sense. If we wanted to examine greater design culture than that is a more complicated subject to try to examine.

          • 7

            James Bryant

            July 20, 2013 5:59 am

            I think to compare recent digital design to that of the Morris A&C movement is superficial and short-changes all the great design thinking that preceded this article. I can see how you could compare Morris & Co’s exuberant attention to detailed textile design with some recent designers’ penchants for visually rich applications, but that’s where similarities end. Morris & Co weren’t using those design elements to communicate ideas, affordance and leverage symbology. I think today’s digital design (especially skeuomorphism) makes much more sense when it is analyzed within the context of postmodernity. Championing flat/minimalist/reductionist design will lead you back to the same pitfalls that is inherent in modernist thinking.

            Design decisions should be guided by the pursuit of what is best for the user/human, not the medium. Most times those two goals are aligned, but when they aren’t, and you choose to make decisions that favour the medium over the user, to me that is classic modernist thinking and a poor design choice.

            I really don’t like to be so negative about someone’s article, it’s well written and I’m sure Dmitry put a lot of time and energy into it. Along the way he does make some valid points related to good design and judging by his work, he is a good designer. The absence of PoMo when discussing modernism and ignoring the lessons we learned as a collective culture is a glaring omission that should be addressed.

            Lastly, as others have also pointed out, the word ‘authentic’ is simply divisive and not at all relevant to digital design.

          • 8

            Dmitry Fadeyev

            July 24, 2013 7:14 pm

            Thanks for your comment James, but I think you’re mis-reading what I wrote.

            I explicitly state in the section “Not Minimalism” that I’m not talking specifically about style, but rather about our approach to design (with style being a visible manifestation of that). Your example of Soulvner is excellent. Apple’s calculator is a purely stylistic change, while Soulvner actually rethought the essentials. The stylistic change, however, is a precursor to a more fundamental shift.

            In other words I look at “flat” here a symptom of an underlying condition, a visible outer change. Flat is purely a style, but the reason for it is not a desire for yet another trend, but rather a desire to see what content looks like without a decorative coat. It’s a reaction — a desire to remove the decoration and start working with what’s left. As we then take a look at the naked content we discover that the old solution was guided by an outdated model, so we rearrange and reshape the content, and get something like Soulver for a calculator, or Rise for an alarm clock app. On the digital screen we are no longer bound by the constraints of physical media.

            So in essence we have two threads — outer shifts in style that are purely superficial, and more fundamental changes in our approach to design, a desire to create products that take greater advantage of their digital medium. The two threads intertwine and in my estimation the latest “flat” trend is the indication of the underlying need for better design. The stylistic thread, however, will not stop and keep changing, and I fully expect flat to morph into something else in the future, but if I am correct here, it would not resemble anything physical but will instead be more abstract, more digital.

      • 9

        The long, precise and complete answer has already been given to you by Antonio. I’d like to specify that I completely agree with him and couldn’t explain the point better.

        The short answer, though, is that post-modernism is crap and in no way is it useful to mention for the purpose of this article.
        And, on a personal note, I’m completely fine with people who pretend it never existed.

  3. 11

    Andy Lampert

    July 16, 2013 1:09 pm

    This was just incredible. Thank you so much for taking the time to present your case by comparing with examples in the past. I feel like I have a better understanding of what is to come now that I’ve read this.

  4. 12

    Tristan Peters

    July 16, 2013 1:14 pm

    A good article, but I do take umbrage with your statement surrounding minimalism. True minimalism as determined by the like of Van de Rohe, De Stijl, Rams etc., is not simply an aesthetic style, it is the reduction of all non-essential elements to leave the core in its most functional form. Which is precisely how you have described ‘authentic’ design.

  5. 13

    The subject of design is pretty loose. External factors influence it a lot (time, repetition, usability) etc.There is no hard rule.

  6. 14

    Roberto De Vivo

    July 16, 2013 12:35 pm

    Good insights and i’m glad it reinforces my own take on the issues. This gives me more incentive to promote content over clutter. The Outlook 2013 example is also a good candidate of overdoing it. Simply removing elements and ‘applying’ minimalist style does not a funcional design make. ‘Flatness’ for the sake of being considered modern and hip is completely off the mark IMO.

    • 15

      The desktop UI of Windows 8 contains many examples of overdoing it. The biggest one for me is the drastic reduction of shadows around overlapping windows. It just makes everything look so much more cluttered now as the visual barrier between you active window and the various background windows is gone; making the content of your window get lost in the content of windows with a lower z-depth.

      I think Google and Apple got it right with removing a lot of chrome, but still maintaining some visual hierarchy through shadows.

    • 16

      Marlon Smith

      July 17, 2013 7:37 pm

      I agree.. I don’t think the MS Office guys had time to do something different with the ribbon in Office 2013. So they just flattened it… They hinted at more design problems that need to be tackled in Office but I think the ribbon was just punted.

      It’s a bit difficult to imagine how you would surface those features in a contextually uncluttered way.
      How do you take all those features into the background in a meaningful way?

  7. 17

    This is a very nice article and all.

    But since everybody makes a big fuss about it, I must assume not many have seen a book about design History.
    If you would, you would see, that webdesign follows certain designpatterns which happened also in Architecture, Graphic- and Industrial Design.

    Read a book about Design History and you will see where this goes:
    “Flat” Design as a representation of the “Get rid of the decoration” will be one way to design.
    And there will be Skeuromorphism which positions itself as the “Decoration Desing”.

    And inbetween those two extremes there will be many variations and combinations both authentic and fake.

    • 18

      Jiri Krewinkel

      July 16, 2013 6:57 pm

      This article contains parts of that. It gave the example of architects designing skyscrapers in the 19th century.

  8. 19

    A well written & researched article. A big hand to Dmitry Fadeyev for this wonderful piece.

  9. 20

    Marc Edwards

    July 16, 2013 12:56 pm

    A very nice, well researched and written article, but I can’t say I agree with much of it.

    The recently popularized “flat” interface style is not merely a trend.

    Time will be the best judge of that. I’d suggest it will be seen as a trend. It’s a strong style and easily identifiable, with a large amount of designers mimicking each other.

    You’d have to be pretty courageous to suggest it’s not a trend and that it’s going to be here for a long time. In some respects, it has already morphed into long shadow — depth has begun to make a comeback, even if it’s stylised depth.

    It is the manifestation of a desire for greater authenticity in design, a desire to curb visual excess and eliminate the fake and the superfluous.

    Why are pixels of the same colour more authentic than pixels of slightly differing colours?

    The result was the flood of garish, low-quality products

    Much like the flood of shameless cookie-cutter duplicates of the current flat design trend.

    Rise’s interface features a full-screen slider, with a background color that changes to reflect the color of the sky at the time you’ve set. It shows no attempt to mimic a physical clock or a physical slider or real-life textures.

    What could be more real-life than the sky itself? It’s as physical as can be — it’s often half our entire view of the world.

    The recently popularized “flat” design style may be a trend, but it is also the manifestation of a desire for greater authenticity in design, a desire to curb superfluous decoration and to focus on the content itself.

    Are the buttons of a calculator content or controls?

    When minimalism impacts usability, should detail be added?

    Don’t shading, shadows and lighting give a user interface form and depth, aiding a user’s mental model of how the interface might work?

    Those are serious questions. This is a discussion worth having, and I’m glad the article is here. I personally feel that there’s no way I’m going to reduce usability on behalf of superficial cleanliness.

    • 21

      Dmitry Fadeyev

      July 16, 2013 1:26 pm

      Thanks for your comment Marc. You raise great points. Here are some thoughts…

      Time will be the best judge of that. I’d suggest it will be seen as a trend. It’s a strong style and easily identifiable, with a large amount of designers mimicking each other.

      I actually do imply that it’s a trend. The emphasis on the opening sentence should be on the word “merely” — that is, it’s not yet another trend but an outward manifestation of a general direction design is moving towards. I wholly expect the current form of “flat” design to pass, but the characteristics of the trends that follow it will be similar to it — i.e. the aesthetic will be wholly digital.

      Much like the flood of shameless cookie-cutter duplicates of the current flat design trend.

      Oh I agree. I touch on it very briefly in the minimalism section. Some designers arrive at something that looks flat through careful reduction, others merely apply the flat style to a pre-existing design. The latter sort will always keep changing their design to suit the latest fashions, but my thesis here is there is a general direction to these shifts.

      What could be more real-life than the sky itself? It’s as physical as can be — it’s often half our entire view of the world.

      That’s an interesting point. The difference between a sky and a clock is that a clock is actually another interface, whereas the sky is part of our world. Re-creating the sky thus is a mirror on our world, re-creating a physical interface is binding the digital canvas to a solution from another medium.

      Don’t shading, shadows and lighting give a user interface form and depth, aiding a user’s mental model of how the interface might work?

      Yes, which is why I didn’t focus the article on “flat” design, but rather, authentic design. I think flattening an interface for the sake of a style can lead to bad results, like in the Outlook 2013 example. Depth, shadows and background colors are all helpful in making an interface clearer. But just as we can go overboard flattening an interface, we can, and often do, go overboard with mimicking physical interfaces merely for visual interest or for a lack of better ideas. I don’t see “flat” here as an optimal solution, merely an expression of the desire to cut design down to basics, to remove distractions and give the designer room to reinvent the interface on a digital canvas rather than keep mimicking physical counterparts.

      • 22

        Marc Edwards

        July 16, 2013 3:12 pm

        Thanks for the reply.

        Some designers arrive at something that looks flat through careful reduction, others merely apply the flat style to a pre-existing design

        Definitely. The best design is always well considered and thoughtful, no matter the style.

        we can, and often do, go overboard with mimicking physical interfaces merely for visual interest or for a lack of better ideas

        Yep. I think that’s been the case from the beginning of time and will probably be the case for all eternity, for better or worse. Many of iOS 7’s animation features could be considered overboard. It’s gratuitous in a shiny new way, but still embellished with ornamentation — just animation ornamentation.

        Yes, which is why I didn’t focus the article on “flat” design, but rather, authentic design.

        I’m still struggling to understand what authentic design is.

        I’d hope anyone designing anything would strive to empower users in an easily understandable way. Isn’t that our job? Is that authentic? If it is, why mention flat design at all?

        • 23

          Dan Carlton

          July 16, 2013 5:31 pm

          Why does he mention ‘flat design’? Whether or not he’s honest with us, it’s precisely because he is a proponent of it.

        • 24

          > what authentic design is

          Look at Android’s Holo theme.

          The action bar has drop shadow; the button has 1px shadow; the menu also has drop shadow; and, what’s more, the shadows can tell you that there is only one light source throughout the whole system.

          That is one example of authentic design. It looks flat and simple, but it doesn’t delete all the decorations. It keeps necessary ones to make the UI ordered and well-formed, and,,, not boring.

          • 25

            And the Holo theme is not just about the look. The 3D effects and animations are used to communicate. it is not about decoration, but useful affordances.

      • 26

        I beleive android holo design has a good balance between flat and skeuomorphism

      • 27

        That and the sky in this example has a purpose for the user and is not here just for entertainment. In case of mimicking a notepad there is no other use than to entertain the user, the sky in this example tells the users when the clock is set for (day or night).

        I understand that that is what you mean when you use ‘authentic’, design is there only to guide the user.

    • 28

      It should be noted that whilst many “trends” come ago bits and pieces of those styles can remain.

      Whilst it remains to be seen whether the simplistic, minimalistic style will stick around and for how long, we can argue that components of it will last a while.

      Styles in fashion have changed drastically in the past hundred years, and yet people still wear suits and ties and very formal getups for very formal ocassions. Other than the degree to which we present ourselves (we’re not as lavishly dressed as some were back in the 1900s) not much has actually changed in that regard, despite it being a huge trend even in “casual” wear at the time it was created.

    • 29

      There are two aricles I recommend reading:

      “Skeuomorphism’s Death Has Been Greatly Exaggerated”


      “The Trend Against Skeuomorphic Textures and Effects in User Interface Design”

      Both article rely on what possibilites you now get with new features in technology and that these features have a great impact over styling interfaces.

  10. 30

    My alma mater university has recently updated their website with a faux-corkboard background and bulbous, glossy navigation buttons. This article really helped me articulate the problem I have with it. I have no problem appropriating textures in my own design, but somehow, on their website, it feels false. And, most interestingly, it feels dated.

  11. 31

    So basically the author suggests to take all the art out design so that you can all become IKEA?

    • 32

      Dmitry Fadeyev

      July 16, 2013 1:30 pm

      I am not supporting the “flat” trend here, merely explaining how and why it came about. Also, I do not think that design should be flat or textureless or boring. The flat trend is a reactive jerk away from excessive skeuomorphism, but design need not be wholly flat when it is disconnected from physical metaphors.

    • 33

      “Flat” as a style can work quite well but it highly depends on what you’re using it for, just the same with flashy pictures and what-not.

      There’s no reason not to consider it, but plenty reasons not to use it. The same applies for all styles.

  12. 34

    A manifestation of the post-digital landscape is the ubiquitous digital device. It is difficult to keep in mind that not so long ago – pre-iPhone – some of the concepts which require a design that communicates (or perhaps better to say connotes) an advanced function would be the mainstream, though we all hoped it would happen.

    The skeuomorphic design phase, crude as it appears to our mature mindsets, was probably a process which needed to be investigated. I am so glad we seem to be emerging from it with our collective design sanity intact.

  13. 35

    Simon Daley

    July 16, 2013 1:23 pm

    Good design will always be imitated. It’s unavoidable. The first person to go down the road of ‘flat design’ was probably pushing boundaries and innovating. The rest of the 100 million flat designs that came afterwards are just copying.

    Designers often imitate (and remix), whereas great designers innovate. Personally I’d rather be of the latter type but (in all honesty) more often fall into the category of imitator. That’s something I am working on.

    The big question for me is, how do you stop a great design from being imitated and thus becoming a trend? For me there is no such thing as timeless design on the web. The person that manages that will be an innovator of the highest degree.

    • 36

      I’m sure most designers would love to be an innovator but wanting and being are two very distinct things.

      We can argue that it’s easier to copy than it is to create but that’s not fair on most designers. A good designer does not simply come to the conclusion that they should use minimalistic styles because they are popular, they come to that decision after looking at potential others and how they would work, and asking themselves why they want to use one style over the other.

      Everything – even the innovative – was based off something at some point. There is nothing truly new in this world, but that’s not a bad thing.

      People should not strive for innovation. Rather, let it find you. People waste years trying to create the next big thing or the newest invention and ultimately fail. Why not hone the craft you currently have and perhaps one day you’ll strike that innovation. Not everyone does, and that should be fine. We are not looked down upon because we did not invent the newest revolution.

      • 37

        Simon Daley

        July 16, 2013 5:41 pm

        Everything – even the innovative – was based off something at some point. There is nothing truly new in this world, but that’s not a bad thing.

        Very true.

        Perhaps my issue is how readily some designers flock to the current trend (whatever that may be at the time) rather than at least trying something out for themselves that perhaps goes against the current grain.

    • 38

      Pierce McConnell

      July 17, 2013 12:14 am

      “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”

      • 39

        Simon Daley

        July 18, 2013 2:55 pm

        Design is not art

        • 40

          Art and design are very closely tied together and, more often than not, firmly overlap. Design can be art. Art can be design.

          Semantics aside, the point of Pierce’s comment intended as a quoted analogy was ignored.

  14. 41

    The problem I have with many “authentic apps” is the lack of visual clues to the user, it makes them hard to use on an occasional basis.

    Rise is a great example, so too is Clear. They completely rely on swipe gestures and the users ability to remember which does what. It’s even more confusing if you use a range of the apps that rely on gestures rather than visual clues.

    Rise might look pretty, but for simple usability the native iphone alarm wins.

  15. 42

    Although this article seems to be well-written, it completely glosses over the specific reason for the recent trend: power preservation on battery-powered devices. The visual extras cause the device’s CPU to do more work (and use more battery power).

    • 43

      Does it really conserve any battery power? How does a bitmap drawn with a faux beveled edge and some faux gloss consume less resources than a bitmap without those things?

      • 44

        I’m not sure what he’s talking about with battery consumption but in web design specifically it actually has to do with bandwidth and page speed. The last few years have seen a surge of optimization when building websites and web apps. People are finally taking things like caching, compression, CDNs, sprites, and a load of other things seriously and with extremely minimal design comes the ability to build with purely CSS rather than images, and that will cut down your total footprint quite a bit. Pages load faster, friendlier for users with a weak signal, and are liked better by search engines.

        Whether “flat” is a good or bad thing, or either, I cannot say at this point. It seems like a case-by-case basis.

      • 45

        The answer is that you don’t have to use a bitmap in many cases.

        You therefore have:

        * Smaller package size
        * Smaller download
        * Less energy to launch app
        * No energy needed to decompress bitmap
        * No runtime storage (ram) for decompressed raster
        * No cpu or gpu texture lookup when drawing screen items (no ram access)
        * No energy needed to free the bitmap data structures from memory

        There are probably a few more advantages I have missed, but you get the general idea.

  16. 46

    Dimitris Kottas

    July 16, 2013 2:40 pm

    I find the word “authentic” to be a bit vague as a basis for a design philosophy. As the author has noted the characterization of “flat” design as “authentic” comes from the Windows 8 marketing, so as with most marketing language it sounds beautiful but it doesn’t mean much.

    It is really difficult to determine what an authentic digital aesthetic would be and it is not strange that the author himself only manages to define what it should NOT be. It could be argued that the most “authentic” digital style is the browser,s rendering of clear html without any styling, Times New Roman at 16 pixels, blue underlined links, etc… But we all understand that this is not only ugly but very difficult to use or even read. At the point where one has decided to turn navigation from a bulleted list of blue underlined links to a series of rectangles with centered uppercase text the big step towards making navigation links look like buttons has already been taken. The further styling of these rectangles seems quite a secondary issue.

    I think that the problem starts with embracing uncritically the modernist rhetoric against ornament. Digging a little deeper in contemporary interpretations of art history one finds that most art historians today understand that ornament in most forms of pre-modern art was not “mere” decoration. Ornament is a carrier of meaning , in many cases it is what makes a mundane object meaningful (and therefore a work of “art”).

    Modernist attacks on ornament are not always “honest”, since in many cases they misrepresent the object that they criticize, and almost never politically and ideologically innocent. Adolf Loos himself considered ornamentation to be a favorite of primitive people (non-Europeans) and women. (It was the white male architects who designed the white unornamented modernist houses).

    Authentic design is about doing away with features that are included only to make a product appear familiar or desirable but that otherwise serve no purpose. Authentic design is about representing function in its most optimal form, about having a conviction in elegance through efficiency.

    Here is the main issue and not in flatness versus skeuomorphism. “Features that make a product appear familiar or desirable” is what most clients want. Not offering them this and instead opting for truth, efficiency and function is a very bold and difficult choice that will affect much more than a button’s background style.

    • 47

      Marc Edwards

      July 16, 2013 2:54 pm

      Great response. I especially like “Ornament is a carrier of meaning, in many cases it is what makes a mundane object meaningful”.

      It’s also worth acknowledging that diversity and exploration are good things, and that different designs require different approaches.

    • 48

      Dmitry Fadeyev

      July 16, 2013 3:54 pm

      Thank you for your comment Dimitris. Here are some thoughts…

      Ornament is a carrier of meaning , in many cases it is what makes a mundane object meaningful (and therefore a work of “art”).

      Of course, but one must be ready to use ornament as ornament, not as trivial decoration, else it ceases its purpose and becomes a distraction on the face of your work. Ornament as ornament in its own right is content, and it can be art. A Gothic cathedral cannot get rid of its decorations because the decorations are the expression of the craftsmen who made it, their attempt to elevate a building from a mere construction to a place of holy communion. The work and the symbols embedded in its walls serve as emotional nourishment, acting as both a visual stimulant and a moral guide. The same with most other forms of architecture and craft, though Gothic stands out most because the “overuse” of ornament here is one of its main characteristics — an excess that makes the style what it is rather than being detrimental to it.

      Before modern times there was no distinction between a craftsman and artist (and the word designer did not exist) — the artist and the craftsman was one and the same — the less skilled working on basic construction, the most skilled working on decoration and art. Mass production completely shattered this dynamic (i.e. you no longer needed all those craftsmen, only manual labour to operate the machines) and its early years led to ornamental excesses as manufacturers capitalized on their new capabilities. I see the Modernist movement as a way to return the artist to the designer, a rethinking of the fundamentals of what made design good, and what would work in the age of mass production. It was not about mere function, it was about transitioning design from an ornamental craft to a craft that focused on content above all else. This gave the new designer ability to once again express themselves in their work, to once again become the artist.

      I am not a Modernist, nor do I even particularly like flat design. I think a lot of modern design is too sterile, and I lament the death of heartfelt ornament. Nevertheless, I recognize the feeling for authenticity in the early pioneers of modern design, as well as its value, and I believe that this same feeling is driving design today towards a more “digitally authentic” look. In this article I’ve tried to contrast the history with today’s trends, and isolate this feeling.

    • 50


      July 16, 2013 4:30 pm

      Great points. I would agree that “authentic” is nonsensical marketing speak — sounds impressive but means nothing. Does the flat aesthetic somehow imply that a website or app is the genuine article, or done in the traditional style? It makes sense to talk about an authentic (i.e. genuine) Apple app or something designed in authentic System 7 style (i.e. it faithfully mimics the original System 7), but where is the original to which we can refer for these supposedly “authentic” designs?

      I think “plain,” “simple,” or “undecorated” would be a better way to characterize this design trend.

    • 51

      I like to add that ornaments initially also had a function:
      The best example of Ornamental Usability I know of is the plastering
      “German: Stukkatur” (I guess that’s not the correct english word for it).

      The «Stukkatur» was added to rooms because the were not very exact and there were cracks at always the same places. (The ceiling, the edges of the room…)

      So the builder covered this with “Stukkatur” and therefore used the Ornament as a tool to improve the surface and the room experience.

      I’d say thats a pretty good equivalent to the flat vs. Skeuromorphism design approach.

      Skeuromorphism was needed to let Users experience the Computer in a almost familiar environment. Now that the digital age progresses, real-world methaphors are no longer as needed as they were, so reduced Design starts to kick in. No matter if its authentic or not.

    • 52

      Dimitris Kottas, I honestly couldn’t agree with you more on all points.

      If we were all honest, native browser rendering would be the closest thing to “authenticity” we could get for web design. For myself at least, I do not believe there is such a thing as authentic design for digital devices. We have in our mindsets what we may believe them to be, but in the end it’s a matter of perspective over the “correct” ways of implementing them, either individually or as a collective group.

      Problems come when ornamental is seen as “wrong” and modernism as “right”. Or even vice versa. Tastes in design wax and wane and there are a variety of reasons for the multiples of styles. I would venture to say that modernism and the “flat” designs are an extension of designers wanting to highlight functionality over design in an internet world that was increasingly becoming design-cluttered… and in web design functionality should come first. It’s a movement towards over simplification… but for a time.

      Personally, I doubt that the “flat” design will remain any longer than any other design trend. We all have different tastes and these permeate the core of design trends and movements.

  17. 53

    A very good post i’ve read in recently, the desire for authenticity & authentic design is representing function in optimal form… is well explained. This helps in a whole new approach while designing an application.


  18. 54

    Great article and interesting subject. It’s good to think about these design problems in a broader historical perspective.

    Personally I’m happy with the trend away from -too much- ornamentation. However, I do have my doubts about many of the too-flat designs in websites, apps or software coming out lately. Even as a seasoned web/IT “expert”, it’s often hard to see or understand what elements in an interface are clickable/actionable. Leading to many small frustrating experiences. Accidentally performing actions by clicking things I didn’t know would lead to an action, or the other way not knowing what to do because of lack of affordance of elements.

    • 55

      I think what we’re experiencing is simply growing pains of a new trend. There’s a lot of garbage out there to begin with put out by mediocre designers. History will decide whether that website or app we’re using will still be around. And ultimately good websites/designs should be user-tested on more than just the designer for maximum usability. The bad designs/apps were probably not even tried on a few users. Combine that with “designer’s ego” of their way or nothing at all and we end up with frustrating experiences.

  19. 56

    Erman Kutlu

    July 16, 2013 1:59 pm

    I’m a visual designer and I surprised to see lots of people unlike comments which says “it’s great article, nice touch with researching difference between ‘over design’ and ‘flat/minimal approach’.

    Some of you says we should keep realistic style on visual elements so we could give a feeling if it is a button or content. Well, i’m designer and I have no problem to see that if something functional even if it doesn’t have shadows, textures etc. Simplicity, form-follows-function approach has been there waiting to be rediscovered for years. If you talk about copying real life style, look at products with higher quality. I’m not saying they all flat or minimal or whatever you defend it is just a trend. I’m saying it’s been there and it will be for ages because it is still functional and after having a big bite people doesn’t care about shiny corners of their washing machine and start to pay attention how easily it fits with their our households (built in) and how slick they look like even they are dirty (matte).

    Some says we have IKEA style when we remove those fancy details. I’m not sure what is wrong about IKEA’s style direction (but I can say yeah, some of their products are definitely shitte!)

    Vintage and retro style was more popular in last years then now and there was lots of minimal/clean website there (Nordic websites I refer). It was a sign that they were coming to overhaul web and mobile design and they did. Some of you don’t like it and you don’t have to but most of us are living in cities and it is easy to forget how simple things could be the most useful things while we standing in a mess.

    It is a good article and summarizes my thoughts and questions after having spent 10 years in design.

    • 57

      I would argue the biggest issue with simply reinforcing that it’s a great article is it really offers nothing new to the conversation. When you ask someone to critique your work do you want to tell you you’re good, or offer actual input that you can use?

      Having someone tell you that your work is good is fantastic. Having them tell you why is better.

      Lots of people actually struggle with that last part. They understand they enjoy (or dislike) something, but they can’t figure out why.

  20. 58

    Being a developer and not a designer, I do find this post pretty interesting. I have to agree with some of the comments about “Flat” being a trend. The rise of this style was so quick and prevalent that it seems pretty obvious to me. Like cheap fashion knock-offs or cookie cutter, low quality musicians (I’m looking at you Justin Beiber) who’s only purpose is to tap that trend and fatten their owner’s pockets.

    One point I find really interesting is how it appears Microsoft starts or at least is the first large player to take a new design direction. Now with their Metro design, the flat design has gone mainstream. Leave it to Apple though to improve and refine it.

    Ahhh….what do I know anyway! I’m a developer. Back to my cage.

    • 59

      As a developer, your input is still really important to a designer! As both, (sort of) I know the more complicated (sometimes ornate) a site gets, the more involved the developer has to be in order to get the site working or even functioning with it’s design. The ‘Flat’-ter or even more minimal the design, I would assume, the easier it is to develop or get functioning, since you are throwing away the extra fat that needs to be tended to in the development.

      I may be visualizing this in my head a bit differently, but when I would get a Flat design as opposed to a more Ornate design, I always enjoyed (or maybe not enjoy, felt more comfortable?) coding and assembling the Flat design website over that of the other. It’s visually easier to see what I am translating.

  21. 60

    Spencer Edwards

    July 16, 2013 3:12 pm

    Quite a good post! It’s very interesting how to see how trends in design have shifted over the course of these last few decades to the now “flat” trend.

    I was very intrigued on what Authentic Design is, and how to use it. I attend Purdue University and I’m looking to redesign our current technology website that uses these principles.

    I’m also interested in how the design trend will transition again within the next decade, and what new tricks-of-trade we will adopt.

  22. 61

    Leo Robert Klein

    July 16, 2013 3:44 pm

    Yee gads! The modernists come out of their cave yet again. “Authentic Design”? Talk about loaded terms. The problem is (and listen close) People Like Pretty! Let me repeat, People Like Pretty! So now, go back to your cave and let’s get started designing things for real people and not bother with some dogmatic principle that cherry-picks its history of design.

    • 62

      Design is not about making things look “pretty”. There are plenty of things that look “pretty” but are designed poorly.

      In actuality, the average user doesn’t care about the design if the functionality is sound. If the latter fails then nobody gives a crap. If it’s not user-friendly or the content is bad nobody cares, and that’s true, but having a good-looking design helps, too.

      Simply making an eye-catching design solves very little. It has no real purpose other than to be eye-candy. From a user perspective that doesn’t mean much. Real minimalistic approaches are designed to not just look good but also be user-friendly.

      And then we can argue the subjectiveness of “pretty” but let’s not go there.

      • 63

        Leo Robert Klein

        July 16, 2013 4:35 pm

        First, realize that this debate is as old as the hills and is cycled through on a routine basis. (In other words, we’ve heard it all before.)

        But just to put this in its proper context: say, you’re trying to sell a chair to a customer. One is rather plain (I guess the expression this week is ‘authentic’) while the other has feet that are ball and claw (look it up) and an ornate back. You can plop your butt on both of them but, gee, guess which one the average consumer who maybe doesn’t have a background in modern art ideology — guess which one that poor sucker will choose?

        Digital? Same difference.

        • 64

          S/he’ll go with comfortable seating… the “user friendly”. If both are exactly equally comfortable, we’re in fiction.

          • 65

            Leo Robert Klein

            July 17, 2013 5:45 pm

            Sorry, you’re not paying attention: both ‘sit’ people — people though want more than a simple platform to place their butt. They want something that works and looks good at the same time. If you can’t fulfill both requirements, you’re still at the wireframe stage of your production.

  23. 66

    After abandoning PS in favor of AI to visually prepare my work, I immediately thought that indeed the design became more honest. Or rather, more oriented to the functionality of the site, not just aesthetics.

    The great aportation of the “flat design”, is to have brought things back to their fair value. Although the genesis of this trend is just … functionality. It is obvious that the technical requirements, the advent of “responsive design” and its constraints, are responsible for this new artistic direction.

    So I would say, on the contrary of Movements mentioned in the article, the great innovation that we see today is that they are not artists who have decided to take a different direction in their work, but the work that has imposed new standards.
    This is quite unusual. The web community of designers should asking itself? I do not know, but what I know is that there is not today, to my knowledge, really significant artistic movements that have taken artistic reasoned decisions by something other than the desire of its members.

    In other words: there is no more provocative artistic movements seeking to move the status quo.
    This is the sign of an era. La décadence, souviens-toi.

    Post-Scriptum: Excellent, very well documented, post. Exactly the kind of post that youngsters need to read. At a time when information has never been so easy to find, it is clear that it dilutes itself in the mass. We sacrificed religion in favor of money, now Knowledge, what else? The West is going from bad to worse.

  24. 67


    July 16, 2013 4:15 pm

    I actually like the Outlook 2013 All-White interface. I’m not even confused, either. They still retained the divider lines. It’s a magazine look, and works for me.

    For those who do not like it, no problem: The theme can be changed to include Light Gray shades or Dark Grey shades.

    Steps here:

    • 68

      “The theme can be changed to include Light Gray shades or Dark Grey shades”
      Therein lies the key to the future of all OS designs. One which Apple will not implement, even though they tried it in the late 90’s. Themes. Everything should have themes that people can choose to customize.
      If you can’t customize your device (computer, phone, car, whatever), it will never truly be “yours.”
      Apple needs to accept that. It is not hard at all to open up an OS to allow theming, they just don’t want to.

      • 69

        That is what you are purchasing when you own an Apple, is ‘that look’. It’s the same with Starbucks. Starbucks coffee sucks, but the experience of going into one, purchasing a fuu-fuu drink, and then walking out with their logo’d cup is what people are REALLY purchasing. It’s the same with Apple. It’s not about customization, it is about the experience of an apple product, the familiarity of it, the looks, and the brand.

  25. 70

    Functionality is important of course but so is aesthetic, which is different to many. However, contrasting a 1965 vw beetle with a rolls royce of the same year, if possible, most would pick the rolls royce. Why? Because it is BEAUTIFUL and still functions the same as the beetle. I visit more beautiful websites than functional with similar content. If truth be told, I’d venture most would say the same. As a designer, I seek for functional beauty, and my clients are delighted. FLAT was never a girls best friend ;-)

  26. 71

    I see so few high quality design posts these days so this one is like a breath of fresh air. Bravo!

    While I think Windows 8 is a mess in a lot of ways and I don’t use Apple products for myriad reasons, their latest interface changes are a quantum leap forward from a visual standpoint. Your explanation for the current evolution of interface look and feel was spot on, and your other insights very clear and helpful. Thanks for the thoughtful post and the amount of time it must have taken you.

  27. 72

    I find the whole discussion that comes forward both in the article and in the responses to the article quite interesting. I myself always looking for ways to improve my own designs, and it helps to keep asking myself the questions “What makes a design a good design?” and “What is the meaning of that which I am designing, and does my chosen approach enhance or degrade what I actually wish to accomplish?”.

    I don’t think there is one best approach to design and as some have already mentioned, it is mostly more of a style choice which sometimes results in a trend (like with the flat designs). In the end what I believe a good design is able to realize is 3 things:

    * It reduces the need for the user to think, and allows the user to act more based on intuition
    * It enhances user experience with aesthetics and interactions

    Now this whole user experience with aesthetics thing is a bit vague, but I believe it is also very important and it is exactly what allows me to keep asking the above mentioned questions. Sometimes the adding of aesthetics does not necessarily have to function as an ornament, it can just be a way to make the application more fun or beautiful to work with. Our brains like to be triggered by aesthetics and it gives us a feeling that the “thing” we interact with has a “soul” (i.e. it’s not just a tool). Once you reach the point where a design is merely functional, and where function is limited to a very basic action, it can dull the whole experience.

    The problem here lays with finding the right balance. Some types of applications can use quite a bit of “soul”, while with others it should really be limited.

    I think that designer should never limit themselves to asking “What is today’s trend?”, but also consider the “Why is it a trend?”, “What’s wrong with the trend?” and “What can I learn from it?”. Just following it and believing it is something like an “authentic design” might not degrade the value of your application immediately, but it will put a restriction on your thinking and on what you could achieve.

  28. 73

    While I liked all the research that went into this article, I think there are a few of things that give it an overall feeling that this is a sales pitch rather than an objective analysis of design.

    “Design whose beauty lies in function is not the same thing as minimalism. With the former, the designer seeks to remove the superfluous, to make the product easier to understand, to make it perform better and to make the most of its medium. The latter seeks to create a minimalist aesthetic, to give the object an aura of simplicity and cleanliness. One is a fundamental principle of design, the other a stylistic choice.”

    The problem I have with this is that this statement makes the assumption that minimalist design ignores functionality for the sake of aesthetic. This couldn’t be farthest from the truth since the main purpose of design (whether it be industrial, graphic or web/app) is to communicate to the viewer/user a specific set of information that will allow the user to accomplish what they set out to do with the object they are interacting with. Minimalism was a way to strip down an object down to its basic functionality or idea and cut out as much decoration as possible, (think Eames) just as this “authentic” design attempts to do. Were there some minimalist designs that went too far or just failed in their choice of what to keep and what to get rid of? Sure, just like in any other design trend that has come before. The idea that “authentic” design is based on a “fundamental” design principle while the other is only a matter of style, in my opinion, shows how little the author of this post knows about Minimalism and, more importantly, is trying to lift up this new “trend” as being more than it is.

    “An interface like Rise’s is only possible when you tackle a design problem wholly within the context of the digital canvas, rather than by translating solutions from the real world. ”

    Yes, that may be true, but it doesn’t automatically “elevate the app above others in the marketplace.” (read: “better”, “more successful”). It may make it more eyecatching and cause people to download it out of curiosity, but that doesn’t mean it creates positive experiences among all user groups.
    Ignoring “real world” examples, or form factors that most people are already comfortable with increases the learning curve for a new app and also increases the likelihood that a user will not have a positive experience. Interfaces like Rise’s are great for people who are willing to re-learn a visual language and explore an application, but for those who are more interested in getting to what they need in a quick manner this may cause more headaches than make things easier. You could argue that the removal of decoration BECOMES the decoration. Redefining interactions for the sake of embracing a new medium while ignoring the years of experience that have come before it dooms an application to risk becoming a fad, rather than truly great design. Exploration is great IF that is what the point of the experience is, and that goes against the idea of this “authentic” design as it now adds more to the experience than is needed to accomplish a task.

    Finally, the term “authentic” irks me because it automatically lays the rest of design as “not authentic”. Good design is authentic regardless of how much decoration goes into it because, in the end, it successfully communicates to the user. Sometimes decoration communicates some of the more intangible parts of an experience than simple, flat graphics can relate and this does not automatically make a less positive experience. Yes, decoration can sometimes go too far, but I don’t think anyone thinks we are currently experiencing the digital equivalent of Baroque, where everything IS decoration.

    • 74

      Dmitry Fadeyev

      July 16, 2013 7:52 pm

      Thanks for your comment Ernesto

      The problem I have with this is that this statement makes the assumption that minimalist design ignores functionality for the sake of aesthetic.

      I agree. This is actually a mistake that slipped in during editing. My original read “minimalist style” rather than “minimalism”, which makes the distinction clear since I am talking about the style (i.e. stuff like Flat UI kits and Metro-style UI). Fixed now.

      Yes, that may be true, but it doesn’t automatically “elevate the app above others in the marketplace.”

      Of course you still have to do a good job with the design, but a fresh solution tailored to the digital medium does help the app stand out. It’s tough to sell an alarm clock app, but Rise managed that, and all due to the design of the UI. The design of the interface can become a selling point.

      Ignoring “real world” examples, or form factors that most people are already comfortable with increases the learning curve for a new app and also increases the likelihood that a user will not have a positive experience.

      Yeah, chances are you will have to make a choice between offering something very familiar to the user and giving them a new interface to learn. It’s up to you which side of the trade you pick, but if you can reinvent a better UI then the learning curve may be worth it.

  29. 75

    Dwyane Michaels

    July 16, 2013 6:09 pm

    Great article. But modernism is over! What do you think about the postmodernists. The architects who say that Less is a Bore. And how does that fit into authentic design?

  30. 76

    Super informative article. This is the sort of writing that has made me start my day by checking Smashing Mag! To anyone who says the world has lost its patience for full-bodied articles, I say that they simply aren’t finding compelling things to read.

  31. 77

    Billy Carlson

    July 16, 2013 7:14 pm

    Thank the good lord this is becoming our next design trend. I am not psyched about the “Flat UI kits” being marketed everywhere, but the thought of a skeuomorphic design kit makes me cringe.

    If you attended design school and worked towards a degree in visual communication – this concept is what we were all taught.

  32. 78

    Jeff Carlsen

    July 16, 2013 8:58 pm

    Trends in design are often reactions to what came before. Software and web design is trending toward modernism as a reaction to Skeumorphism, which is only natural.

    These things happen in cycles, and that’s a good thing. Right now, we’re getting back to fundamentals, which naturally leads to rethinking interfaces and interaction. Much will be learned. Then, over the next few years, we’ll see trends move away from modernism. Some slowly, some more dramatically, but almost certainly in new directions.

    It is said that Modernism is immune from trends, and this is mostly true because the principles of modernism don’t change and always relevant. If you design using strong fundamentals, you can create something lasting. It may not be to everyone’s taste, it may not be the most attractive, but it should remain elegant.

    So, I respect it, even if it isn’t always my taste. Though I would also hate to be in an environment where everything was modernist.

  33. 79

    Matthew Trow

    July 16, 2013 9:20 pm

    Very thoughtful article, but I find myself torn as I’m fond of both ornamental design *and* functional minimalist design.

    I’ve been considering an exercise in creating the ultimate in simple apps – a spirit level that consists of 3 lines and a compass that consists of a single line, both very high contrast, to be visible even in strong sunlight.

    I see no point in replicating ‘real world’ objects on a flat screen, but I can see the point in ornate design for physical objects.

    Lets take that compass as an example. A physical compass that is simply a disc of plastic with a needle vs. an ornate metal object, with symbolism representing the four points of the compass. A light weight throw-away object vs. a pleasantly solid ornate metal crafted item.

    I know which I’d prefer.

    I *love* over-engineering in physical objects – that something functional can also be a source of wonder. Perhaps your not even aware of it’s function initially, but the sheer beauty of it elicits an emotional reaction.

    An ornate steam punk keyboard vs. a cheap plastic entirely functional one – which would you prefer, if money was no object?

    A cheap functional wooden plank garden gate vs. an ornate wrought iron gate?

    It’s at this point when I start to veer away from the articles comparison of the design of physical objects and virtual interfaces. I see them as entirely different constructs. I don’t see the architecture of a building having a great deal of relation the architecture of an application, aside from the obvious comparisons of function, accessibility etc.

    It’s difficult to stand back and admire the design of an application or a website in the same light as the design of architecture, unless that architecture is purely functional. At that point, the only emotional response it elicits is it’s use, rather than as an object … of art.

    I also really don’t get the idea of ‘authentic design’ – does this mean unique? The original?

  34. 80

    I don’t like the Flat Design at all. The screenshot of Windows 8, as an example, makes it very hard to read with various fonts and sizes, background colors, and no pattern/style to help a new visitor make sense of the page. I hope this style fades away quickly.

  35. 81

    There have recently been a spate of articles across the Internet regarding the Flat Design “trend”, most of them simply outlining what it is or otherwise merely showcasing the sites and apps that use this design principle. I have been averse to the “flat” look precisely because of this pushiness. I designed my first site on a Windows 95 machine, so the trend to flat design comes across to me like artistic laziness, almost like a serious regression given our device display capabilities. The truth is, it doss take a good artist to make a design simple and look impressive at the same time.

    If it weren’t for the title of this post I might have skipped reading this, but I’m glad I did. I find this article refreshingly different and a whole lot more interesting to read than most. And your thought process has convinced me not to design flat, but to question my own design trends. I feel it’s really about being objective in the design process, rather than getting the right look, and I can now embrace this with a practical understanding of the trend.

    I also believe in the principle that design should become almost transparent to the user – it should not impede their use of your site or application. If the user stops to admire the navigation elements, background colors and textures, they’re obviously missing the true content of the site.

  36. 82

    John Ledingham

    July 17, 2013 12:22 am

    What a great article; I really enjoyed it. I do think it’s important to consider and discuss what may have been the more benign catalyst for skeuomorphic design…

    While in design school, I took a Human Factors class, in which we studied Boeing’s transition, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, from a primarily analog aircraft MMI/UI to one that was largely digital. When the designers created the new digital cockpit displays, they relied heavily on analogies from the physical world because it was presumed that the pilots needed that point-of-reference to be effective in their tasks when flying a complex aircraft. They needed familiar cues, which would allow them to quickly recognize and interact with the appropriate controls, sometimes under a tremendous amount of stress and pressure. This effort led to digital user interfaces that looked very much like their analog predecessors.

    Like those pilots (living in a time of transition between analog and digital) each of us knows that in the early days of smartphones and tablets those skeuomorphic cues, which are now almost universally derided, acted as helpful and effective touchstones. They created an emotional connection between the product and the user and ultimately drove adoption outside of the tech community. That said, I agree that almost all of us are far beyond the point of needing those analogies. We understand that an app designed for note-taking is like a pad of paper in that we use it to capture thoughts…but we certainly don’t need lines on the “paper”, or paper at all for that matter.

    We’ve finally reached the tipping point; those outside the design community are beginning to view content as the primary focus of a product experience. But I really do think it’s important to remember how we got here and why real-world analogies may have been important at one time (but simply aren’t as necessary as they once were). We may still need those cues for products and experiences that are new to the digital space but I agree with the author that honesty in digital design is the new best policy.

  37. 83

    Chris Howard

    July 17, 2013 2:55 am

    Design trends. All trends have a life-expectancy.

    Ten years ago we had articles like this about 3D design; in ten years time we’ll have the same article about whatever is in vogue then.

    A trend doesn’t make something right. And when it goes out of style, that doesn’t make it wrong. Any design can be either beautifully or poorly implemented.

    Apple has done a beautiful job with iOS7, and yet, it has merely copied the trend, not advanced it in any way (unless you include the gimmicky parallax effects). Ives is a very good industrial designer, but not sure he’s cutting it as leader of a visual design group.

    A great designer will never be slave to trends, but will draw on them and many other past and present trends, and other sources for inspiration.

  38. 84

    So glad to see a reasonable, centered article on this topic. The vitriol and flaming over this topic has gotten insane.

    There does seem to be a little misunderstanding about the points you’ve raised here, though.

    Being authentically digital (it’s too bad that Microsoft used this for marketing materials, because it is a truly useful term) doesn’t mean removing all art or meaning from an interface. It simply means stepping back and taking a broader look at our medium.

    Digital interfaces are capable of so much more than mimicking real-life objects. We are literally creating designs for a 2-dimensional surface made of light, lit by super fast calculators.

    The movement toward the very specific style of “Flat” design is just one of many possible outcomes. If “Flat” isn’t your style, then you don’t have to use it, but why is the argued alternative faux-realism (often not even attaining the level of true skeuomorphism) ?

    Authentic design is one that uses its medium in an honest way and understandable way. Making a clickable object on a 2-dimensional screen look like it’s made of sandpaper is the equivalent of plastic with a wood-grain sticker on top.

    And because I don’t want to come across as leaning one way or the other: Making “buttons” a single color isn’t necessarily the best solution either. For all I care, a link could be made of neon-colored fractals (seriously, if someone figures out how to make that useable, I’ll have their babies). Just make it something that takes advantage of the immensely new and different medium we have available to us.

    • 85

      Leo Robert Klein

      July 17, 2013 5:54 pm

      “vitriol and flaming”

      In the English language we call it ‘criticism’ — it’s something that bad or poorly thought out ideas tend to attract. It would be ‘insane’ to expect otherwise.

      • 86

        Yeah, because calling modernists cave dwellers is just simple “criticism”.

  39. 87

    Dmitry, thanks for a great article. And thank you for responding to some of the more substantive comments.

    I can see the choice of the term ‘authentic’ is causing a few commentors problems as it implies a value judgement I don’t think you meant to make. But I can’t think of a different term.

  40. 88

    Don’t forget about Windows Phone 7. It was the first mobile OS which uses flat design, 3 years before iOS7 !!

  41. 89

    Good detailed post. I would have to argue though on the calculator example making the design flat doesn’t really make it more ‘functional’ than the previous design. Flat or not, I think the calculator functions the same.

  42. 90

    Brian Pohuski

    July 17, 2013 5:00 pm

    Design in the digital era is no different than it has been in the past. As one trend wins out, the opposite eventually rises up to challenge. Boxy cars give way to sleek rounded cars. Detailed life-like art is balanced by abstractions. It’s the ying-yang effect of all design that can be seen in every aspect of design throughout history.

    The main point to be made here is that “winners” of design push the boundaries of the uncommon trend and make alliances to push that trend from an outcast idea to the mainstream standard.

    It really boils down to being in the right place at the right time with the right connections to people/companies with influence. Understand this, and you can be ahead of the curve to ‘innovate’ the next big thing.

  43. 91

    Mark Lafferty

    July 17, 2013 5:26 pm

    Rise becomes an example of what happens when design pendulum swings back from the current “flat” UI and into a hybrid that can capture the inherent familiarities of skeuomorphism with the effectiveness of authentically digital.

    I’ve been calling this combination “ambient design”. I’m sure there is a better term but for us it seems to capture the concept of environmental queues that add context to the authentically digital controls.

  44. 92

    Aaron Martone

    July 17, 2013 5:48 pm

    As trends change, design heralds the way.

    As much as it sounds like I’m being a shill here, take the Kohler company for example. Their pieces of furniture have a seemingly timeless modern design to them that I’ve found very appealing for a long time. They have strong, pronounced designs that emphasize enough flash to know it’s there, but not as to take away from the fact that their primary concern is function.

    Akin to UI design, there are core principles that fads build on as solid guidelines for success. These are the base truths that seem to be universally appealing. A simple interface doesn’t mean it can’t impress. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication.”

  45. 93

    Dieter Mueller

    July 17, 2013 5:55 pm

    I am so sick and tired of made-up and historically inaccurate Postings like these:

    – “Authentic Design” – Authentic to what?! –

    “Authentic design aims to pierce through falsehood and do away with superfluousness. Authentic design is about using materials without masking them in fake textures, showcasing their strengths instead of trying to hide their weaknesses. Authentic design is about doing away with features that are included only to make a product appear familiar or desirable but that otherwise serve no purpose. Authentic design is about representing function in its most optimal form, about having a conviction in elegance through efficiency. Authentic design is about dropping the crutches of external ornament and finding beauty in pure content.”

    There is no such Thing as “Authentic Design”.


    authentic (Adjective)

    Of undisputed origin; genuine: “authentic 14th-century furniture”.

    Made or done in the traditional or original way: “authentic Italian meals”.


    What the Author has done is reinventing the Mission Statement of industrial Design and Ergonomics. What he does is that he simply indulges the “Form follows Function” Argument and throws in the usual Worship of Bauhaus.

    – Question of Materials –

    Design was also mostly a Question of Material. Until the Invention of Bakelite most (metallic) Consumer Goods had to be simple for Machine Production. Bakelite allowed more ornamental and elegant Shapes, compared to Metal.

    – The Influence of the Protestant Work Ethic on modern Design –

    The Author also ignores completely the long lasting Differences of the Split of (Church) Art since the Reformation and the underlying philosophical Approaches.

    Here we have the literal Foundation of the Protestant Work Ethic and Iconoclasm on one Side (no Image whatsoever) – and the ornamental Orgasm of Baroque and Rococo on the other.

    Especially Calvinism – today still expressed by Shaker Design – was highly frugal and “Anti-Anthing”. Any Colour, Images and fancy Design was considered a Distraction from Work – and since Work was your Way to Salvation it was therefore a Distraction from God.

    It is no Surprise that the new industrial Style was as much driven by Protestant Culture – which also served as a Foundation of Anglo-Saxon Style Capitalism.

    – Design for Symbols of Imperialism and Design of everyday Consumerism –

    The Author also confuses the imperial Architecture of Post-Colonialist Europe with the industrial Production of Consumer Goods.

    Big official and public Building where always an Expression of their Time, Power and higher Ideals of it’s Financiers. Even modern Building like the Empire State Building is inside and outside not purist in Term of “functional Authenticity”.

    Everyday Consumer Goods were already made pretty simple, because the Lower-Classes couldn’t afford “fancy Stuff”.

    So ornamental Work was always and will always be associated with luxury Items – we see it from Rapper Bling to expensive Cars with wooden Panels.

    – What about Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts and Gothic Revival Movements? –

    The Author is completely ignoring Art Nouveau and other romantic Movement that argued for a Design and Human Habitat closer to Nature and human Needs – ESPECIALLY as an Reaction to the new cold Industrial Society.

    – What about Ergonomics? –

    He completely looses it by Equating naked industrial Design as the best Way to make Objects – completely ignoring that all good modern Design is moving away from the Obsession of the right Angle and cold Materials:

    “Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.”

    The so called Beauty of the Form is a mental Masturbation on the Purity of using mathematical Shapes for Humans – which resulted in Objects that looked cool, but where not perfectly suited for Human Interaction.

    One simply needs to look at the Evolution of the Mouse as an Input Device to see what I mean. The Mouse literally started it’s Evolution as a Box and evolved into a curvy Device that follows the Shape of the human Hand and not the cold and mathematical Obsession of industrial Objects.

    – UX & Software Design –

    As someone who has worked over 24 Years in Design and Software I will refrain from poking more Holes in the Rest of this “Article”.

    • 94

      Sometimes an article doesn’t have to be 100% historically sound to be able to emphasize the things that are on people’s minds. Actually being fully historically correct and referenced would probably have resulted in this article being a lot less fun, and would probably make it a bore to read.

      Just seeing the discussion that stems from it, you could say that the current take already makes it quite a valuable contribution. In addition, many of the loaded words were not invented by the author, but are marketing terms used by referenced organizations.

      You have a good point there about the availability of materials. Creativity stems from limitations, so if “material” doesn’t allow the approach you would like to take, you have to settle for something else. Many choices in design. ICT is especially interesting on this subject, since the materials get a huge upgrade within a very short timespan, allowing IT interface designs to evolve faster than most other forms of design.

      This is just one of those design jumps where people leave perfecting old patterns behind, and try something different because the material allows it. It’s always very risky to then give it a loaded term such as “authentic”, but I think that’s just marketing playing their game. It wouldn’t be a term a designer would (or should) use to describe their work.

      • 95

        Dieter Mueller

        July 18, 2013 1:22 pm

        History is not about “Fun”. I expect from a professional Magazine or Author proper Research and Context.

        If you want Fun read a Comic.

        • 96

          Agreed. I think the author picked what supported his opinion and left out things that may have reduced its validity.

    • 97

      James Bryant

      July 19, 2013 7:56 am

      *digitally authentic high five!*

  46. 98

    Derek Fidler

    July 17, 2013 7:18 pm

    The word Authentic and Genuine have a lot of force behind them, and I believe that labeling one design direction as More Authentic stinks of art snobbery. I agree that embellishment for the sake of decoration is a terrible idea that has been beaten to death in recent years, but Skeuomorphism also serves a very important purpose for a large segment of users.

    It’s true that flat, or functional, interfaces are genuinely designed for screen media unlike other design solutions, but they also rely on the users to be well versed in design language and to understand the concept apart from any prior analogies they may already know. As designers, we are acutely aware of typography, scale, proportion, grid, and colour. Are our users? We can teach them to be aware, but that learning curve is difficult, and, for most of us, we already had those inclinations before the years of school. As someone who entered the design game later in life, I absolutely feel that I learned to be aware of those subtle design issues only after I began attending art school.

    When I’m designing interfaces for myself and for young people, I absolutely love the freedom of designing flat UIs, designing gesture only controls, and designing interactivity that could only be accomplished in a digital-only medium. But there are many more people out there that are alienated by such visual sparsity. I chuckle when I see interior design architecture magazines showing off beautiful living environments with impeccably designed furnishings and obscenely expensive build qualities completely devoid of humanity, I mean humans. People are the most important part of the equation and we often chase the Platonic ideal of usability and not real usability with all its required ugliness and imperfection. A huge glowing, shadowed, animated arrow is the antithesis to subtle, successful usability, but it’s necessary sometimes depending on the audience.

    One great example of successful skeuomorphism is the iPad. It’s pre-iOS7 iterations made it the best computer for the elderly. The elderly are already marginalised culturally in the West, but they are also digitally marginalised. Prior to skeuomorphism, many didn’t have an understanding of digital analogy, and the advent of flipping pages in calendars and the familiar lines on a notepad allowed them to transition to digital technologies precisely because the digital medium mirrored their world. The mouse was a huge demoraliser, it’s a massive separator between control and feedback. Tapping where you want to write, or even using your finger as a pen, that was revolutionary. But gesture isn’t everything. Rise, for example, is beautiful and intuitive to me, but my grandmother may not get it compared to a picture of a clock with analog hands that get wound with little knobs.

    To strip interfaces of these visual cues is to demand elderly users throw off their 60 years of pre-digital knowledge and embrace something they have no experience in. What a recipe for marginalisation! And what of people in 3rd world countries that are only beginning to expand into the digital world? Twitter succeeded by creating a technology that worked on the lowest level of digital functionality, and it has helped spread revolution and news reporting in places where some people will never own a laptop or touchscreen in their lifetimes.

    It’s tempting to expound the greatness of certain aesthetic movements over others and it’s something people have been repeating for centuries, probably in the name of Progress. The Hellenists surely didn’t have the same tastes as the Classical Greeks, but now we regard both sculptural movements as essentially equal in value. And some people prefer Kincaid to Rothko. They might be tasteless, but they aren’t wrong. I like the Harrod’s building better than Louis Sullivan’s. I might also have poor taste.

    • 99

      Bill Addison

      July 25, 2013 5:28 pm

      Thanks for this comment, explained perfectly and exactly the points the article omitted. Your comment on interior design magazines rings true with me as well, they always look so clean but void of any life.

  47. 100

    Vinodh Subramani

    July 17, 2013 7:48 pm

    That was a well framed information about the flat design trend. Thanks for the info..

  48. 101

    Your statement that Microsoft took a bold step with Windows 8 is only partly correct. Microsoft did this a year earlier with their new phone UI. At the time, most Apple loyalists claimed it too basic and said it needed more real world elements. Today, Apple loyalists are getting a very similar look in ios7.

  49. 102

    Chad Redling

    July 17, 2013 10:50 pm

    Thanks for the interesting perspective.

    I can agree with most of it and I appreciated the well thought out supporting examples. It certainly is a deep topic, with many facet’s. I believe It boils down to few artists and even fewer innovators seeking perfect form and function with the many of us following behind riding the wave while the majority are left confused as to if they like, love, or hate it… The interesting thing is the web is both an artistic and functional medium. One discipline demands simplicity and purpose, the other an meaningful message based on individualized feelings & experiences. One is scientific and logical, the other observational and moody. This battle will never stop. “perfection” is unattainable, so trends will ebb and flow long after we are gone.

    Just ride the wave and enjoy it or be a visionary and think big (easier said than done) and go for it!

  50. 103

    samantha hodgson

    July 18, 2013 1:43 am

    “These effects provide visual interest, but they are also relics of another time, relics that tie an interface to static real-life objects that are incompatible with the fluidity and dynamism of digital interfaces.”

    > I think the goal of skeumorphism (in the case of Apple computers) went beyond tying the interface with real-life objects. It was to create a familiar, emotional connection with these devices that at the time were foreign and cold to us. Computers, mobile phones, etc. had not yet become objects we handled more than every hour.

    One of my instructors in design school had the opportunity of working at Apple many moons ago and he was part of the team responsible for designing the first iterations of these icons. The directive was just that: make them look as real-life as possible, so that a connection could be made. That this foreign object, the personal computer, would feel somehow familiar, and that we could easily navigate (by way of association) the interface.

    Thus the argument shouldn’t be “The recently popularized “flat” design …… is also the manifestation of a desire for greater authenticity in design, a desire to curb superfluous decoration and to focus on the content itself.”.

    But rather, it should be: As we have become such prolific users of computers and digital devices, it is this expanded usage itself that has established an emotional connection for us with the experience. Thereby making those skeumorphs superfluous and unnecessary. It may or may not necessarily have to do with authenticity. After all, isn’t necessity the mother of invention?

  51. 104

    “The clean, utilitarian design has not a trace of ornament”

    Except for the pointless little ball on the handle…

    • 105

      Actually Bob that little ball is used for grip. You put your thumb on it to stabilise the kettle when pouring.

  52. 106

    Jason Bradberry

    July 18, 2013 11:59 am

    Really interesting post, which certainly got me thinking. I shared a few thoughts in response to the idea of “material authenticity” in digital design on my blog.

  53. 107

    Jakub Linowski

    July 18, 2013 11:04 am

    Becareful of equating the visual element of depth with ornamentation. Depth, color, contrast, tone, etc, are all visual design elements at our disposal to communicate more effectively and not the enemies. Extremist flat design is a step back due to diminished usability as a result of faded cues for interaction.

  54. 108

    The Rise app: “The innovative design not only makes for a great user experience…”

    Unless you’re left handed; in which case the time moves to the left of the screen, under your thumb when scrolling, and the pull-out on/off menu is a nightmare to get at without dislocating your thumb.

    Why not just go around smacking lefties on the hand with a steel rule, like in the old days?

  55. 109

    Govinda Agarwal

    July 18, 2013 1:54 pm

    Indeed an interesting conversation. However I think this conversation revolves around elements that bring value to the end user. I look at minimalism and curbing superfluous decoration simply as a concept of applying lean than anything else. Customers are becoming smarter everyday and they would pay for features that are functional and serves the purpose well rather than loaded with nice to have elements. Having said that not all customers are alike and the choices I see being made in today’s market explains it all. Authentic design to me is light, clean with functionality at the core – after all style and beauty lies in the ease of using the features of the product.

  56. 110

    Alex Atienza

    July 18, 2013 3:28 pm

    Great read. I agree with your comments of users wanting more “authenticity” and content focused designs.

  57. 111

    What a fantastic, eye-opening article. Well written! It humbly reminded me to return to my conviction of “simplicity over function”.

  58. 112

    I’d argue that authentic is the wrong word to use for this. Another faction of the modernist movement was termed “brutalist,” a term which captures another aspect of the style pretty well.

    I totally agree with the notion that ornament applied indiscriminately is just decoration (in the words of someone whose name I can’t remember, “design that serves no purpose is called decoration”). However I think it’s important to note that ornament is (as the author touches on) inherently the elements of the design that feel most human, or the parts of it that remind you it was crafted by a human hand.

    There really isn’t anything authentic or not about a graphical user interface, and very little about a natural user interface qualifies as particularly authentic either. Most of what we relied on in the early aughts for “affordance” was based on mechanical metaphors: buttons, knobs, sliders. Those were teaching tools as much as anything else. If you assume that everyone has learned how to use computers now (as all the major mobile operating systems seem to), then it makes sense to move away from those old tropes. But to assume that the removal of ornament is inversely the increase of authenticity is probably misleading. The niftiest bits of iOS 7 suggest that ornament hasn’t been removed as much as it has shifted from graphics to behaviors. I think that’s a really crucial distinction for us to internalize.

    One final thought: modernism writ large had the greatest impact in architecture, and determined the form of many urban areas. A quick survey of world architecture today would suggest that human choice has not entirely favored the brutalist ethic; until about 10 or 15 years ago, the most common examples of modernist architecture were urban housing projects, which involved zero choice and only extremely rarely found any success in the lofty social engineering goals that underpinned them. I’d caution that minimalism (as the author cedes) needs to be well considered in both plan and function, and that (even more importantly) the goals / proclivities / general context of the end user should ultimately determine the design.

  59. 113

    Great article! I enjoyed how it broke down the reason why designs (old and new) were created the way they were/are.

    It’s so easy to design what’s comfortable and familiar. While a design is familiar, this doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. This article makes me want to push myself when designing; to ask “Is this the most effective way of communicating an idea? Can it be improved?”

  60. 114

    Gianluca Teti

    July 18, 2013 9:26 pm

    A great, great article. Thank you.

  61. 115

    One of the best articles I’ve read in years. Thanks!

  62. 116

    What’s wrong with little entertainment? People want to be entertained. People want cute, shiny buttons. Mimicking real-life becomes a problem only when it degrades usability.
    I don’t see anything wrong with shiny buttons on the calculator. In fact, I’d rather use that than the one on the right. The bevels and shadows enhances the usability.
    There are screwdrivers with neon colored handles. Superfluous, some may say. But it does not degrade its function as a screwdriver in any way.

  63. 117

    Some great points have been raised here. I must say that typography is a key aspect of modern design. For instance Apple is a fairly basic brand. White and Grey colour scheme with a modern and as you may class as a digital font and that’s what certainly makes a difference.

  64. 118

    Oleg Stirbu

    July 19, 2013 4:32 pm

    I think the reason for this switching is simpler than you guys may think,
    It’s more business and practical imho, (at least for tech giants like MS, Google and Apple). It’s the only clear response to device diversification (mobile, tablets, TV’s etc.).
    Google designers learned it with the multitude of Android devices.

    It’s the switching from pixel to vector, and vector is more restrictive: it wants to be flat/minimal/authentic.

    • 119

      Bill Addison

      July 25, 2013 5:15 pm

      Would totally agree with this. The business side to this movement has been largely ignored. Designing simplified interfaces is certainly difficult, but for a seasoned design professional, and from a business perspective, building a simplified design is less labour-intensive (not less difficult) than skeuomorphic or highly textured/illustrative designs. It makes business sense to simplify.

  65. 120

    Melanie Sumner

    July 20, 2013 1:35 am

    “…..a manifestation of a desire for greater authenticity in design, a desire to curb visual excess and eliminate the fake and the superfluous.”

    I can’t say that I necessarily agree on this. Flat is GREAT for people who are REALLY bad at design, or don’t have the time to do it well, but the people who were always doing great design are still doing great design. There is nothing superfluous about them. Perhaps this idea applies to the masses of self-taught devs who didn’t quite grasp the whole design part of it, but just can’t agree that this is a universal statement.

    I see it more as “prefer the back end of things and have no patience/talent/*insert other reason here* for the design? FLAT UI is here to save you!”

    Besides, with our increasing ability to streamline our process…it’s logical that some sort of design streamline would be a part of that.

    • 121

      I think you are completely missing the point of the article:

      Flat != easy & stripped down.

      Good flat design, possibly even more than any kind of skeumorphic work needs a designer who engages with the content and structures it and it’s usability features in a well organized and thoughtful way.

      The same way a brilliant UI design that gives you the feeling you can touch and twist each knob and control can very well be out of place and just blatant “look how well I design”-showoff, a well done and well structured flat design isn’t at arms reach of just anybody.

      Or simply put: Good Design isn’t measured by ones Photoshop skill, as you somehow imply by reducing flat and functional design to beeing an “easy way out for the unskilled”.

      The best example would be: Go to dribbble, have a look around. You will find 1000s of marvelous Interace elements that actually have little to no real world use…

  66. 122

    By these standards of authenticity, letting the interface resemble the material it is built from, Craigslist would be the most authentic site on the planet.

  67. 123

    I think this nails it within the first two paragraphs – in reference to early mechanisation, Dmitry states manufacturers, maybe rightly, weren’t thinking about “what sort of design would be best suited for mass production”; an ideal ‘authentic design’ would be suited for mass production.

    But design is aesthetic and specific to context, and stating skeuomorphic solutions are ‘inauthentic’ is flat-out wrong. ‘flat’ UI approaches ask a user to learn a language to operate the interface, wheras skeuomorphic approaches ask them to interact via a clear metaphor.

    It’s disengenuous to compare this closely with art/architecture movements, but if you do connect this explicitly with modernist ideals, then it has to be appreciated that modernist ideas don’t work very well in practise. Modernism is non-inclusive, and the analogy of modernist architecture is pertinent: it requires very high-quality materials to be done successfully – when low quality materials are used what you get is rotting ’60’s office blocks/multistoreys/labs/schools that litter Europe. It’s alienating and sterile and appeals much, much more to designers than to the public (though the web does allow for a much larger audience upon which to force these ideals than modernism ever had).

    This call for ‘authentic’ design is explicitly political. It smacks of ‘the proles don’t know what’s good for them’. At a higher level it’s about cleanliness and a design version of sanity and goals for humanity and systems of thinking, even if, once filtered down to day-to-day grunt work, may not be the intent of the individual designer.

    Even in the article, the quoted texts – le Corbusier “The luxury object is well-made, neat and clean, pure and healthy, and its bareness reveals the quality of its manufacture”, Loos “The lower the standard of a people, the more lavish are its ornaments. To find beauty in form instead of making it depend on ornament is the goal towards which humanity is aspiring”, Sullivan “It would be greatly for our aesthetic good, if we should refrain entirely from the use of ornament for a period of years, in order that our thought might concentrate acutely upon the production of buildings well formed and comely”.

    And it’s about simplifying design structures and attempting to systematise the design process: If I reduce my design to blocks of colour and structured type, I can delineate these blocks according to tags (&c.) [in theory] very easily, and once this structure is in place, the production stage [in theory] becomes simpler, moving almost from development -> live with no friction. I can [in theory] programme pleasing, matching colour schemes and apply these to the blocks, and the users can learn that email is blue and news is red and this is the symbol to open a menu and this is how it is on every system everywhere and everyone is happy with their new easy lives.

  68. 124

    I’ll leave the arguing of fine details and vague references to others. I found the article to be educational, relevant, and a good start for designers and non-designers alike that are unfamiliar with “Flat” design or the Microsoft “Metro” approach. It has been very useful with clients and I have anad will keep forwarding on.

    The critical point the author makes to my mind is the difference between Minimalist and Flat and Modern. Too often I am presented with web and software UI so minimal that I find them difficult to use. I have reverted back to earlier Microsoft products for that reason as well…the designers have eliminated so much that the visual references and cues are missing, and no one asked “did these have a purpose?” The answer is YES….they brought “Order to Chaos”.

    I thank the author for his time and efforts.

  69. 125

    There are four things I absolutely love about your article:

    1) Generally: The analogy to ornamental & modern design in architecture and industrial design is a marvelous example of what is happening at the moment.

    2) In detail: You put extremely well why almost every theme based web projects tends to fail or look not half as enticing as the demo.

    3) Practically: The difference between Flat & minimalist design is very well explained.

    4) Overall: The whole text articulates extremely well pretty much what I have been myself thinking about the developement of digital design in the past year. And much better than I could put it in words

  70. 126

    Dmitry Fadeyev

    July 24, 2013 7:23 pm

    Thanks for your comment Narein.

    You misread me. I am not saying that “flat” is not a latest trend, I am saying it’s an indication of a bigger, more fundamental shift. Flat will soon change into something else, but it will not resemble physical media (note that all examples in your link are “flat”).

    • 127

      Hello Dmitry

      Even I tired to say the same as trends will change day by day, but present trend of flat design attracted many people. And also, I agree with your point that flat design will not resemble physical media.

      Cheers mate

  71. 128

    Bill Addison

    July 24, 2013 11:47 pm

    A great piece, love Dimitry’s articles. A couple of points I’d like to add:

    1. There are no absolute truths about design. Everything is in a constant state of evolution. A period of skeuomorphic adaption was necessary to arrive where we are today, to help people understand the transition from the physical to the digital, and will remain in a continual state of evolution. This is why “authentic design” is a great term, because what was “authentic” today may not be tomorrow.

    2. With regards to the point about ornamentation. Consider that people around the world marvel at the beauty of European renaissance architecture full of ornamentation. Does the ornamentation of St. Basil’s Cathedral serve a practical purpose? It serves an emotional purpose within a historical context. That’s what makes us human, that’s why we have art and that’s why we are continually searching for a balance between practical design and art.

  72. 129

    Roberta Faulhaberr

    July 26, 2013 1:01 pm

    Excellent blog, great discussion.

    My two cents? We’re looking at a cyclic phenomenon that has been out there probably since we first started making things. Baroque vs. classical, dionysian vs. apollonian, abstract vs. representational, etc. The history of art and design is full of examples of this swing.

    Of course, with the internet the cycle is speeding up so fast that soon the shifts will be simultaneous! (just kidding).

    For me, Dmitry put his finger on it when he said
    “Design whose beauty lies in function is not the same thing as minimalism minimalist style. With the former, the designer seeks to remove the superfluous, to make the product easier to understand, to make it perform better and to make the most of its medium. ”

    Authenticity in and of itself is not the real question for me. The question is more, and authentic “what”. Content and form have equal importance, and the issue becomes, what are we trying to do here? Decorative means just that — not essential to a purpose. This sidesteps the issue of which aesthetic extreme we espouse at any one time.

    I’m not a designer, but an artist and a visual facilitator. Strangely, this debate is also reflected in my world, where many feel content is king and color and form serve the content (content being the group discussion), including myself. But then there’s the pleasure of the beautiful which can also affect how the group works and how our brains function… a balance must always be struck, keeping in mind the purpose of the visual “interface” whatever it may be.

  73. 130

    Catherine Khetagurova

    July 26, 2013 6:39 pm

    I do not agree with the author.
    The minimalist design does not mean ‘flat’.
    Just like the simple design does not mean ‘flat’.
    Microsoft did not make any steps in the direction of visual excess.
    ‘Flat’ design in Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 caused only one circumstance:
    somehow make his work “Operating System” by removing all the visual effects.
    And there is no “order and elegance to the digital canvas” – is not observed.
    By the way, if the author does not know, the tables and flash design websites are long gone.
     For the record: there is such a thing as CSS3 (this is what concerns Flash and tables).
    And if the author, as well as Microsoft inspired design of road signs and signs at railway stations, no need to keep talking.

  74. 131

    A very insightful article. Thanks for this. We wrote something specifically on How Modernist Art Influenced Windows 8, I thought I should share it as there are some reference the Metro concept you mentioned.

  75. 132

    really worthfull and informative article. thanks for that :-)

    but, i think we should not forget ourselfs in the way technical things are changing. if skeuomorphism is over, should we design things from real life in that new authentic ways?

    best example is the calculator image. left side is great. i hold this thousand times physically in my hand. right side is at first impression flat and not clearly structured. i think we should decide if things can represent really objects, than don’t change. and if we have a abstract sight only on data/information, it could be let me say “soulless” flat, authentic, minimalistic, or however you want to name it.

    best regards :-)

  76. 133

    Thank you for offering me a great read !

    “A theme is always built on dummy content and so, by its very nature, could never be an optimal representation of the content it will eventually hold. ”

    This is SO true.

  77. 134

    One of the great articles on SMag… more articles like this one… focused on ideas and inspirations.

    Thank You!!!

  78. 135

    This is for the young designers out there… There’s no such thing as “Flat Design” there is minimalist design and flat “look and feel”. Design is an approach to solving a problem, it’s a philosophy. Aesthetics, “look and feel”, is just one of the tools used to present the solution and communicate that philosophy.

    Everything on a monitor is flat, everything on paper is flat.

    You can’t solve a problem by starting with someone else’s solution.
    Stop talking about “flat design” and start solving problems with your designs.

  79. 136

    It’s an okay article but, in the end, it’s all about communication, about selling the client’s services and bringing them results.

  80. 137

    Joshua Mikael

    August 20, 2013 6:30 pm

    The Flat Design style was inevitable, but it’s a fad and it will pass because the world is not flat and we are products of this world. Trees, grass, buildings, people, animals, objects…everywhere I go, there is contour, relief, depth, light, and shadow in my life. Flat design is altogether unnatural in its philosophical foundation and reflects nothing found in nature (not that skeuomorphism is my favorite thing in the world, but flat is worse IMO). A flat gold surface will shine because metal reflects light — that’s a gradient. A piece of paper mache has texture because looking closely you can see and feel that it is not smooth…and once it’s crinkled, forget about it — texture times 10. Same with a smooth piece of granite — shine and texture are built into its very nature. Nothing of real meaning in our world is “flat” — not in the way the Flat Design style implements its philosophy.

    Flat design robs UI of potential meaning — how do you communicate a real world element, such as metal? Skeuomorphism over amplifies meaning — I don’t need Voicenotes to have a huge microphone just to record sound. I like designing somewhere in the middle ( so that I can ensure my designs are meaningful and hit the user’s sweet spot: their ability to fully perceive all the affordances inherent in the design and it’s feature set, while absolutely adoring its look and feel. I want you to love how you do what you need to do and love what it looks like while you do it.

    I can’t imagine flat design would have ever helped me in the past. No major client has ever asked for it because executives don’t remotely understand it. The “best” example of a major flat design initiative is Win8, which is a massive failure of UX/UI design IMO. It looks like a nicely colored series of wireframes. A skeleton with no flesh and blood, no pulse of life, no real forethought or respect for device form factor. And Apple should be very careful about going flat in iOS7. They built their entire enterprise, not just iOS, off of non-flat design. Why start now just because it’s a popular fad and “Microsoft did it”?

    THE BIGGEST RED FLAG –> Flat design has not come about as an answer to any UX problem. There is no problem it solves better than PSD layer effects. It is one of the best examples of designers simply designing for themselves, instead of designing for the ease and delight of their users. That said, there may be niche user bases that would resonate with an application or service that was designed using flat techniques, but for the most part, flat design is “design ego” kissing itself for the sake of kissing and being kissed.

    Lastly — I have even been seeing designers use flat design techniques to imply drop shadows and highlights, etc… Flat design isn’t even happy with itself!

    Long live Layer Effects!

  81. 138

    The how do I make my page look that of a Google+

  82. 139

    The world’s foremost usability expert calls flat design a threat:

  83. 140

    What can I say. The author totally overlooked or simply lacks all manner of historical knowledge related to modernism and related historical references. This article is nothing more than an attempt to support a well understood graphic style for a meaningful migration of design theory and practice. Get a grip and read up on design history.

    There is not a shred of reliable research that supports the authors supposition that there is a quest for simplicity in design. In fact large sample consumer studies have shown over and over that consumers prefer skeuomorphic solutions over flat graphic design solutions. The only group that periodically seeks simplicity are DESIGNERS (caps intended). The current trend in FLAT design is nothing more than another graphic style and has nothing to do with the larger historical trend of modernism. Finally, your cited references tell the story. None of them map onto the topic you attempt to address in this post.

    Charles L Mauro CHFP
    President / Founder

  84. 141

    I deeply lament the move away from Victorian-era architecture. Anybody who has been to both New York and London understands that while London is beautiful for its historically authentic buildings, New York is a cesspool of gross and unimaginative shapes. If simplicity were beautiful, then the concrete blocks of the Soviet Union apartments would be architectural and artistic wonders. Instead they are soulless and hideous blemishes of a people systematically prevented from enjoying creative thought and freedom.

    Modernism was and is as much political as it is some allegedly objective means of changing the status quo. It was a response to centuries of monarchy and hierarchy. But of course it simply replaced the system with a new status quo. When that failed to prevent the atrocities of World War 2, Postmodernism was born. And this too was a sham that became the new staple of a new status quo, one that insisted it was not the status quo. Yet anybody who took a college English class between 1970 and 2005 knew otherwise.

  85. 142

    “Today, we’re seeing the same desire for authenticity manifest itself in the “flat” trend, which rejects skeuomorphism and excessive visuals for simpler, cleaner, content-focused design.”

    What’s next? I didn’t like flat when it was budding, now that it’s in full bloom I find everything distasteful. I wasn’t too keen on “aqua-styling” everything, but c’mon where’s the joy in a bunch of flat squares? I’ve eaten enough mushrooms to know that things look better with at least a gradient.

  86. 143

    Clarence Moc

    July 21, 2014 10:13 am

    Robert, they vary. It’s up to the authors. Many with the letters coming up are handwritten, or hand-notated, it’s about half and half. Though most with the first letters were typed. The fourth letter was a comic.

  87. 144

    Design is continually in a state of flux between the heavily ornamented and the austere. At any one moment in time, it is somewhere in the continuum. Our eyes tire of seeing the same thing. Too far to the austere side becomes cold and unfeeling, and we begin to add the human, artistic elements back in. We move in that direction until eventually it becomes overdone, we tire of it all and want a clean sweep. So begins the move toward simplification, which eventually goes too far and so the cycle repeats. As in most things, it is all about balance. Authentic design with enough artistic element to make it human, to make us relate to it and feel at home with it, this is the ideal to me.

    All of this said, I am finding some of the current design to fail on the task of authenticity- because, authenticity should mean, form follows function. If the site is cluttered and it is hard for the eyes to separate elements into meaningful sections and to find what is needed, then function has actually been abandoned in favor of form. And this is how things become too extreme. Always test usability first. It should be easy for the user to find the information that is needed and to access it.

    Excellent article, I enjoyed it much!


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