In A List Apart article, Jessica Enders writes about the downsides of flat UI design - something that the entire mobile industry has jumped on. Starting with Microsoft and Windows phone 7/8, Google's Holo UI, and Apple's iOS 7, the mobile world is now more devoid of texture and shadow than ever before. Enders argues that flat UI's can backfire, as they don't always provide the user with enough information.
Though some decry flat user interfaces as pure fashion, or the obvious response to skeuomorphic trends, many designers have embraced the flat approach because the reduction in visual styling (such as gradients, drop shadows, and borders) creates interfaces that seem simpler and cleaner.
The problem is that most flat UIs are built with a focus on the provision of content, with transactional components (i.e., forms) receiving very little attention. What happens when flat and forms collide? User experiences can, and often do, suffer.
Enders uses forms as an example:
When I say forms, I mean any interaction in which information is exchanged to receive a product or a service. This includes everything from internet banking to mobile commerce, from signing up to use a new tablet app to running a web search.
Her analysis highlights many of the problems that users might experience when navigating a flat UI. She notes that the drop-shadows, gradients, and borders may not be the "useless 'embellishments'" that many "modernist" designers claim. Enders also lists three clear pitfalls of flat UI's - using Klout as her primary example.
- Lack of affordance (affordance is how much the design of an object—physical or digital—suggests use, like a chair inviting you to sit)
- Insufficient distinction between form elements (e.g., fields versus labels versus instructions versus buttons)
- Insufficient hierarchy within categories of form elements (e.g., primary versus secondary buttons)
This is particularly interesting, since some of the broad goals that flat UI's try to achieve can actually violate some basic usability principles. For instance, insufficient distinction between elements could be considered an underuse of contrast. Also, a lack of hierarchy within categories is a key principle for organizing elements in Information Architecture.
Enders article is quite relevant today. Check out the full piece in the source below.
Sources: A List Apart