Monday, 4 November 2013

Flat design, your target market and making your site more accessible

It has become something of a taboo subject in design recently: everyone is talking about it, Apple have designed their latest mobile operating system around it, and new websites are popping up every day utilising it (some doing it very well, others not so much). The subject, of course, is flat design.

At this point, we should probably give you a rough overview of what flat design is. No longer do we have thick gradients, heavy shadows and the idea of objects jumping off the screen, and gone are the faux leather books, mock notepads and glossy bubbles. All of this falls under the category of skeuomorphism, which in simplistic terms, is the anti-flat design.

With flat design, we’re treated to block colours, subtle to-the-point-of-being-almost-unnoticeable gradients, no shadows anywhere to be seen (unless necessary to give text a faint definition) and an emphasis on text and imagery to convey the user message.

So, what is our opinion on flat design? We asked fatBuzz web developer and former Apple employee, Jon Mills, the self-confessed loather of skeuomorphism for his (slightly biased) opinion.

Personally, when done well, I love flat design. I think it’s cleaner, easier to navigate and far more appealing to the eye. Equally, a lot of people find it too vibrant, and with the removal of indicators as to what an icon or section denotes, users are finding it difficult to get used to. Ultimately, like any change though, it will take time to adapt.

For me though, there are some understated benefits to flat design, and this was particularly highlighted by one particular client’s requirements.

At fatBuzz, we are managing a site for Superior Homes, a property developer in Kenya (where the infrastructure is still in its infancy regarding internet connections) so we’ve had to ensure that we can deliver certain content at a relatively low file size, so that it can be viewed on a Kenyan connection in reasonable time.

The same can also be said for mobile sites, which will sometimes be accessed on a mobile network that won’t always have the rapid speeds we’re used to here in the UK.

Flat design can help complement both these scenarios, by ridding itself of the code and images required to create a skeuomorphic environment.

For example, a flat designed pink block may only take 3 lines of code, whereas the same block with shadows and gradients could take upwards of 20 lines by the time you’re finished covering all browsers (read my blog on browser compatibility).

Extrapolate that into a full site and you could end up adding several hundreds of lines of code, which will of course take that bit longer to load.

When we’re in an industry where everyone wants information yesterday in the palm of their hand, you need to consider ways to achieve this - and improved loading times of 2-3 seconds could make all the difference to the user experience.

Of course, this does pose a few questions to consider about your existing website, and whether it caters for your target audience.

Do you look at the figures to see where in the world people are viewing your site, and do you consider the devices they view them on? Optimising your site is every bit as important as having a presence on the web, and making sure it’s suitable for your clients isn’t something that should be overlooked.

This is a topic that I could write 30 pages about though, so rather than overwhelm you with countless facts and figures, I would invite anyone with questions regarding flat design, their target audience and/or site optimisation, to get in touch with either myself, David or Stuart on 0141 427 0727.

I’ll leave you with a link to the very best of flat design - please let us know which site is your favourite and why by commenting on the blog or on Twitter or Facebook.

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