The Flat Design Era


When LayerVault 2 launched earlier this spring, we believed that we were taking a risk by pursuing an entirely flat interface.

Well-loved products on the web share a similar design aesthetic, with roughly the same kinds of bevels, inset shadows, and drop shadows. For designers, achieving this level of “lickable” interface is a point of pride. For us, and for a minority of UI designers out there, it feels wrong.

We certainly didn’t invent the flat style but arriving at it was a violent process. We tore through hundreds of revisions (we have the LayerVault timelines to prove it) to potential interfaces before arriving at the answer that now makes us say “of course.” The desk at LayerVault’s original headquarters (my Manhattan apartment) still has the battle scars from objects being slammed down in anger. At one point, while working on a mockup, a MacBook was slammed shut so hard it was nearly unhinged.

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The Flat Design Era. We are casting aside the Lickable Design Era and ushering in the Flat Design Era. How I remember the Lickable Design Era! It was impossible to get any Flat Design done because it didn’t conform to the expectations of Lickable Design. Lickable Design dictated Best Practices, and God help you if you defy Best Practices. If your buttons didn’t look explicitly clickable, alas, it was feared that your users would not click them. 

But that is done and gone because today heralds the arrival of a newly-enlightened era, the Flat Design Era. The Revolution was not a quiet one. Much violence was rendered in the name of righting the wrong of Lickable Design. There is much-told tale of a MacBook that suffered a near-unhinging. This tale has passed into legend. 

And so into the dustbin with Lickable Design. There it rests alongside the corpses of Non-Proportionally Scaled Fonts, Mechanically Generated Small Caps, Distressed Type, Halftone Gradients, and The Underline. Many are the follies in this pit, may they never resurface again. 

Should you find yourself with any new notions that do not conform to the principles of Flat Design, it would be wise to quash them lest they manifest in hostile terrain. This is no age for extravagance, this is Year One of the Flat Design Era, Month Alpha of the Honest Design Age. Welcome, Flatlanders.