The Short Answer:  “Heck To The Yeah!”

Employment site Dice asks  “Is Flat Design Actually Awful?”, referring to the new “flat design” user interface fad.

The simple answer is “Usually”:

Jakob Nielsen, a Danish web usability guru, has co-authored a number of books on the subject of design. He is part of the Nielsen Norman group, which sparked quite a stir with a recent article about Flat UI elements causing uncertainty among users—a huge no-no. If that wasn’t damning enough, Nielsen also termed flat design a “threat to tablet usability.”

What does Nielsen mean by “uncertainty”? The firm conducted an experiment in which 71 respondents read nine pages from six different websites (topics ranged from e-commerce and non-profits to technology and finance). With some of these pages, the firm added shadows and gradients to make design elements stand out; with others, they “flattened” the design even more. The respondents found the pages with flatter design more confusing to navigate, taking an average of 22 percent longer to find a specific target.

That’s a pretty miserable result. But is flat design a pretty-looking sham? Has the entire technology industry gone down the wrong path when it comes to UX and design? Others don’t think so.

I design this stuff for a living – and when I find myself trying to guess where it is I’m supposed to “type” thing or what I’m supposed to do (the “uncertainty” mentioned in the article, which is a big black mark when it comes to system usability), I wonder;  if it were an application aimed at someone like my dad, who doesn’t know or care much about computers but is being forced to interact with them more and more, how would this fly?

On the other hand, it’s good to have a mission.  Vanquishing flat design is a good one.


8 thoughts on “The Short Answer:  “Heck To The Yeah!”

  1. It reminds me of “flattening bills of materials” for about the same reasons; you really can’t see what’s inside, and if that’s anything significant (like big yield hits at process step A), that’s a disaster.

    What ever happened to the notion that things ought to be intuitive?

  2. “What ever happened to the notion that things ought to be intuitive?”

    The only intuitive user interface is the nipple.
    Everything else is learned.

  3. jdege: :^), but if it were true, there would be no such thing as a lactation consultant. You are 100% correct that we ought to consider this in light of what the average person considers intuitive, and that there may be no universal standard, though.

  4. Flat design flatly sucks. It’s especially true for those with visual impairments. I’m surprised more companies aren’t sued for ADA violations for their new, updated flat designs.

  5. The thing that I hate most about web design is change. Look, I’m an old dog, I get it, but I’m the one using your product. I finally managed to figure out how to use the existing web interface and then YOU CHANGED IT. Bastards! No, I am not impressed that you’ve kept the features I want but helpfully moved them to a different pull down menu. If I have to hunt for it, it’s not handier, no matter how clever you feel about your edgy new design.

  6. The only intuitive user interface is the nipple.
    Everything else is learned.

    That is pure gold!

  7. Early in the era, I took in a seminar on web design. Something I’ll always remember from that seminar (aside from being introduced to Afro Celt Sound System) was the leader saying, “If the Search box on your website is getting a lot of hits, it means you’re doing something wrong.”

    Lately I’m more frustrated with printed design. In particular, my Sports Illustrated magazines. Somewhere, somehow, designers have been allowed to think that it’s cool to print small, reversed text over photos. Or to use small, reversed text at all. Or even just small text. I’m to the point now of canceling my subscription because there’s no point in paying for something when I can only read about half of it. I’ve been a subscriber since 1972, which probably indicates the root of the problem: I’m old and small type is dead to me.

  8. The only intuitive user interface is the nipple.

    Yeah, but there’s no good reason to make everything else opaque.

    A box that implies “Type here”, a 3D button that indicates “Press This” – little things that help make learning faster.

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