Microsoft Leads on Flat Design
Design and Microsoft are far from synonymous, making the latter’s early arrival to the flat design party all the more surprising. Questions remain as to whether flat design is the long-term future of user interface design. As more and more services and companies are embracing this trend, flat design is currently dominating the scene. Although Microsoft was the first company to bake flat design into its operating system (OS), it has never been known to be at the forefront of design. Apple is more associated with design, as much of their success has been predicated upon superior design prowess.
Flat Design Is All The Rage
It seems like everyone has embraced flat design. Apple’s newest version of IOS uses it. Almost all of Google’s recently released products including Gmail, Google Now, and Google+ have hopped on the flat design band wagon. Google has fully embraced the flat design language and is in the process of rolling this out across all of its products. Most other popular web products have began to embrace flat design as well.
What Is Flat Design?
Flat design takes advantage of digital elements without simulating the real world. It eschews shadows, bevels and artificial textures in favor of pragmatic useful elements that are important to the user. Flat design can be described as utilitarian and in many cases stark, but not without beauty. Flat design seeks to display digital content in an honest way not analogous to the physical world. Before flat design, designers would try features to visually emulate their real world counterparts such as in the example below showing an Ipad Ebook complete with fake pages and a fake wood bookshelf. This style is known as skeuomorphic design and has been used in user interfaces for almost as long as computers had the graphical capacity to display it.
Apple Laid The Ground Work For Flat Design
In fairness, Apple deserves a good deal of credit for spurring the flat design movement. Although it was slow to embrace the aesthetic of flat design, its products functioned in such a way to lay the foundation for what would eventually become flat design. Early IOS products laid the ground work for a user interface that would benefit from flat design. This was due to limitations of working on a small screen. While Microsoft’s Windows was all about multi-tasking and utilizing the generous screen real estate it had, IOS had a 3.5 inch screen to work with necessitating streamlining and prioritizing its user interface. As a result, IOS (and later Android) developed an ecosystem in which each app had a specific purpose. Although both IOS and Android developed a good mobile OS from a functional standpoint, they were still taking visual cues from the desktop world, a world dominated by Microsoft and skeumorphic design at the time.
Innovation Is Not About Being First
Apple did not invent the MP3 player but they brought it to the masses. Similarly, Microsoft is not the pioneer of flat design as it actually evolved over time. Microsoft’s multi-billion dollar marketing campaign brought flat design to the public. It is ironic that this design trend was so well received, but the same could not be said for the underlying product. Flat design was not enough to prevent Windows 8 from being regarded as a flop. Although the product did not work out, it did put Microsoft back on the map for innovation. It’s rare when Apple takes its cues from Microsoft as it’s usually the other way around, but Windows 8′s flat design has truly sparked a design revolution. It just remains to be seen whether or not Microsoft will stand to benefit.