Flat design has become very popular recently. Many websites utilise the principles of  flat design and simplify their interfaces accordingly. Indeed, many recent user interface redesigns and new websites use a flat design; this trend has begun to appear almost everywhere, both on websites and in applications.

Icons are also keeping pace with the times, when it comes to the latest trends. More and more icons appear with a clean flat design.

This type of design has gained its popularity with the advent of the new operating system Windows 8 and the new product designs from Google, which include completely flat elements. Other well-known sites use this idea as well.

flat icon design Changing Gmail and Google Drive Icons

The Metro Icon Style and User Interface from Microsoft is probably the most popular example of a flat design and represents one of the few occasions where Microsoft has become a true trend-setter in design interface and icon design.

Windows 8 Flat Logo Changing Windows logo

Metro Icons New Metro style icons

Flat design can be beautiful and attractive without a lot of fuss and embellishment. It can be a simple way to convey a message, or promote a product or idea. Flat design is tending to simplicity and powerful visual impact, focusing on the colour and shape.

Flat design is a method which uses no 3D elements, no shadows, no gradients and other techniques that help create a 3D effect. Icons and UI elements are strict, with no shadows.

However, more recently flat design has evolved a little; subtle shading has been introduced and drop shadows is used to give a bit of a lift to the icons. Most of the projects these days fall into the category of “almost flat”, where the look and the concept have very little effects.

Almost Flat Icons Almost Flat Icons by ‘Pierre Borodin’

Most of us have already seen the keynote presentation from Apple in which they announced the new operating system for their portable devices, iOS 7. As people have been discussing for a long time, Jony Ive’s team flattened the interface and went for a simpler feel and design. Apple has finally conformed to the rapid growth in popularity of this trend.

The previews of iOS7 seem to have completely split Apple fans. Whilst some hail the new simpler looking interface, others berate the apparent inconsistency and ‘badly’ designed icons.

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Apple did not make full use of a flat design. They still use gradients and shadows in their designs — two features that are not typical on flat design. They also appear to use these almost indiscriminately on their icons although we haven’t seen the final release yet; so I suspect (hope) they will pull it out of that bag as they normally do upon release. Apple has come a long way to simplifying the design but perhaps, for the first time in a very long while, has not quite nailed it, at least with the beta release.

However, their icons have become more elegant. 3D icons have been replaced by flatter images; within each of the icons are larger images which are less like the original drawings. All shadows in the Apple design have been negated. Icons appear larger because of the absence of decorations and bright colours help distinguish different icons. The corner radii have also been adjusted slightly to further distinguish the icons from the earlier iOS.

iOS7 icons Changing iOs Icons

The final version of iOS 7 will be available in the fall. Developers still have have time to lead the design of custom applications in line with the new look of the entire system.

For example, Skype became much more flat after its purchase by Microsoft and some redesign towards the tiled Windows Phone. The application already looks good for iOS 7.

Skype IconsSkype’s Flat User interface

As more operating systems move to a flat design it is easy to wonder if, for now at least, more traditional 3D icon designs are finished. However, we have already seen a slight rebellion, even within the Flat Design camp, with additional depth and detail creeping into designs. I don’t think that conventional design is dead, just that there is another style out there to choose from and both approaches will continue to win fans among developers and users in the future.

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