Completely flat design has no sense of layers or depth. This is important because users need to know where they are at any given time within your application, they will feel lost otherwise.
Completely flat design is also flawed when it comes to call to actions and various controls. Sure, a big red button in a sea of gray stands out, even if flat. The problem is when you can't have just one big red button (or you don't want a rainbow of buttons, which will look awful). You need your call to actions to stand out, and a perfect method of doing this is by giving said button depth or weight. It suddenly stands out from the flat design around it.
Windows 8 suffers particularly strongly from this because it's got a lot of software that wasn't originally designed for the Metro style. Outlook (http://i.imgur.com/7fWEmvm.png) is one of the worst examples.
There are so many small things that would help give a hierarchy to the design, like using a darker shade of gray in the ribbon background and maybe the sidebar. Without visual cues it's a mess that you have to stare at to understand.
Even obvious details are wrong like one set of reply buttons being flat and another set with gradients. This is really sloppy.
Here are those sections in RTM.
edit: It appears the reply buttons do squish like that on narrower screens though, but it's at around 1000px wide or less, so that's really a non-point in this day and age. Gradient issue isn't there though.
Although this by no means affects your main point about the organisation/visual hierarchy.
Not really a fair argument.
The whole flat design approach still needs a lot more thought.
Let's compare apples to apples: the iOS home screen to that of Windows. Let's go further and ignore the aesthetic differences, like gradients and dropshadows. What are we left with? The iOS screen has a table of app icons, all consistent in size and alignment. It's easy to see that at the highest level, these are all applications I can access. Let's look at Windows, more specifically the screenshot in the blog post. We see no consistency in size, and further, that grouped set of minicons on the left are of a confused relationship. 3 are music apps, and the fourth looks like maybe text messaging. The iOS apps are laid out in a way where a user can easily tell what is tappable from what is not tappable -- "this is an actionable element in a sea of inactionable whitespace." Contrast this with the billboard-like layout of the Windows Phone UI. You are bombarded with colors and pictures and icons, mere millimeters away from one another, leaving a user in confusion and sensory overload because it's difficult to isolate the various elements. The iOS app screen has an icon and a text label for every single app. The Windows Phone does not. It almost seems like tiles are arbitrarily assigned to be little/big or to have icon-labels/photos. After playing around with a friend's Lumia for some time, I'm still confused when I stare at the screen of a Windows Phone.
I'm not trying to spark an Apple vs. Microsoft debate. I'm trying to show that stripped of all gratuitous skeuomorphism and subtle aesthetic qualities, UIs can still be usable given they clarify to the user what they can or cannot do. I could've done the same mini-analysis with an Android home screen compared to a Windows one and Android would've come out on top for many of the same reasons.
This is true -- but only in the context of a random person put in front of a random Windows Phone device for the first time. However that's a fairly rare occurrence over the lifetime of a highly personal device, and I feel Microsoft has made the right decision in prioritizing personal organization.
Tile sizes and placements are indeed "arbitrarily assigned" simply because they're chosen by the user. Anecdotally, everybody I know with a Windows Phone has tinkered with the tile layout. The lack of whitespace is not a problem when you've placed all those items there yourself. The ability to vary tile sizes further improves spatial orientation within the customized screen.
(Think of items on your desk -- in order to tell them apart, do you insist that they are all the same size and at least 20 cm away from each other? Probably not, because those items have some other meaning to you than simply "object on my desk").
Another misunderstanding about Windows Phone is the content of the tiles. In screenshots it looks garish to have some tiles in a solid color and others filled with photos. In practice there's a strong consistency at work: any tile that is non-flat is displaying the user's own content. Furthermore these tiles usually also have an element of motion so that the non-flat content is not static. (For example, the People tile shows the user's contacts with varying animations, and the Pictures tile shows the user's photos as a slideshow with smooth panning.)
Once you've adequately addressed the functional purposes of an interface, you are free as a designer to design it however the heck you want to. Usually the rest of these design decisions should be made through the lens of brand image and how you want your users to feel. The rest of the design process is practically a science (ie how the average person scans a page, perceives content hierarchy, expects certain UI elements to perform certain actions, etc). So the bulk of the truly creative portion of design is subjective, and designers should remember that. Yes, designers are always forced to be creative when solving UX and architecture design challenges, but ultimately the result is not subjective. Your objective goal is to help the most amount of users understand your website and accomplish their goals. When designing the style of your website, you're deciding how to influence people's emotions. An almost flat design like Google's is great for Google (and I truly mean that, I really love their design aesthetic as of late in their apps), but that's not because an almost flat design aesthetic would be great for every website. The almost flat design aesthetic makes me think of digital products, modern companies, and a subtle, friendly personality. This works for Google as it does for many other companies, but it might not work for yours.
Find your brand image. Craft your own emotional experience for users that is unique to you and your company. And when you find something you like, don't tell other designers it's better than their styles ;)
Minimalism never precluded the use of effects or interactions to create depth (and I'd argue that "Flat Design" never precluded this either). Just because skeumorphism was one extreme, doesn't mean everything has to use another extreme as a baseline. Using the "flat" end of the spectrum is entirely unnecessary. A name isn't neessary for everything...
Also, for what it's worth, I much prefer Andrew Kim's characterization of the spectrum as skeumorphic to digital . Digital doesn't have the connotations that "flat" has
It did remind me how much "find friends" and Game Center make my eyes bleed though.
* Lack of affordances mask what actions can be taken by tapping on a given tile
* Lack of differentiation between the functions of different tiles leads to a confusing experience
Tapping a tile and the functions of different tiles isn't confusing because all tiles upon tapping have the same function, open the app. You can't actually interact with a live-tile in any way, though maybe you are suggesting that the animations of the tiles is suggestive that you can take an action on the tile other than open the app.
In this regard, a WP tile is the same as an app icon on any other platform.
Having said that, I think the challenge in WP8 vs WP7 is the 3rd size for the tile (WP7 had only two sizes, square and landscape). The smaller sized tile does allow more info/apps/tiles to be shown on the homescreen, but it certainly clutters up the interface and makes it somewhat overwhelming.
Things that are interactive look interactive, and these attributes are only used for that practical purpose and never for pure decoration.
I really don't understand why this is even a debate. Do we need a daily post talking about how Apple's overwrought, realism aesthetic is tacky (it often is) and how flat design is too flat (which it is)?
This issue has officially reached dead horse status.
Well it's not like you've helped the issue with misleading, blanket statements like this. The problem with iOS/OSX is specific apps e.g. Game Center, Podcasts. The core OS itself is pretty neutral:
In the spirit of you calling me out, I will say that most of what Apple does (particularly in iOS) is beautiful and usable.
Google Cache: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache%3Ahttp%...
(Since it appears dead)
http://www.matthewmooredesign.com.nyud.net/almost-flat-desig... if you get the same.
2. When you use box-shaddow (or dropshaddow), then it's not flat design anymore.
I feel like Matthew just wants to coin his "Almost Flat Design" term when there is no need. Design has always been in the middle, except when it was extensively making use of boxshaddow or making everything flat. Then we give it names.
He has a point though, Windows with metro and mobile is doing Flat Design like nobody ever dared and as much as it's beautiful to see, it's a pain to see for a UI designer. Too bad he doesn't write more about this.
1. As a UI designer, I love flat design. Probably that's partly due to it being new and refreshing, but I do appreciate cutting down the visual noise to a minimum and focusing on the content.
2. As a UX designer, flat design is extremely problematic for all the reasons I discussed in the post.
I'm happy this has started such a discussion and hope it can help other designers form their own opinions with this whole flat movement.
I must be strange because I fell that gamecenter is a pretty good metaphor and easily puts purpose into context when shown to the user (start a match on letterpress on the ipad and you get a gamecenter popup). I dont understand the find my friends leather, but it is really just a skin on top of a standard set of ios controls, it doesnt take away from usability.
I also have had an idea for a new kind of "flattish" UI based on layered construction paper that is lit and shadowed by a simulated overhead light. The idea would be to let natural lighting algorithms do their thing in giving the otherwise flat interface depth.
We need both where it is appropriate and think about the user first that's what design is about, and not just throw designs because they are trendy , what used to be trendy always sucks in the future.
Let's take at ReadWrite , TNW , Mashable new designs. They are flat , boring , with huge ugly flat color blocks that may look good on ipad or whatever , but not on my pc, frankly i ended ud reading only the register which still looks like a real online magazine to me. Iguess the others tried to appify their blog like Qwartz , except how much people read Qwartz ? I have a tiny 13'' screen i want as much infos as possible , not negative spaces all over the place.
Ask developpers about the latest Visual Studio version too, i'll guess used to it probably but how does it make that software look better? a little of relief would add to usability,now it feels like windows 3.1 or something, with ugly colors.