a well-researched article with many salient points about the state and direction of ui visual design. this is sure to be disregarded and flamed to all hell.
It has 16 upvotes and yours is the top comment. My only issue is that Jeff Veen's title is wrong :P
Is this the state of UI design or graphic design?
I really like this guy's blog posts but he sure complains a lot.
Is this regarded a bad thing? Why?
Not necessarily. It just stroke me that every thing I've read from this blog sounded like complaints.
I hope he doesn't get the reputation of "that dude who complains".
It's inevitable people will accuse me of the crime of complaining. Pointing out flaws is integral to criticism.
I think some of the past posts have seemed elitist. This one doesn't. Good work.
It's good to have someone (intelligently) question and criticize what we (designers) are doing, that's how we move forward. At the same time, it'd be nice if he proposed a some solutions instead of only criticize. Or in other words, "Be the change you want to see in the world."
As I posted on Twitter (that you will probably screen cap and complain about rather than address).
"Flat design is easy & bad"
No, flat design (design that doesn't rely on Skeuomorph) is hard and bad design is bad.
There is nowhere to hide when you remove the decoration.
We can agree that "bad design is bad."
I address your point about "hiding" later in the series.
Will be interesting to see what you have to say about it.
"Flat design emerged as a convenient set of training wheels for shortsighted front-end developers and the increasingly disposable visual designers who blindly embraced the aesthetic."
Or maybe not - your stall has been set out pretty clearly and you have fundamentally missed the point. Skeuomorphism was the training wheels - but it was for the user, not the designer. A useful transition from physical interface to glass that has now served its purpose.
What I think you are really arguing about (with your deliberately disingenuous comparison of App icons) is the homogenisation of design - and this has nothing to do with 'flat' vs Skeuomorph.
Personality, emotional response, understanding etc is derived from a whole spectrum of inputs - colour, composition, depth, language, context - to distil design into two buckets, one good, one bad based on the use of depth is simplistic at best.
I agree with you that visual dimension "was for the user" as you say. I just don't agree that it was training wheels. It was just aesthetic and usable communicative design.
the homogenisation of design - and this has nothing to do with 'flat' vs Skeuomorph.
Homogenization absolutely has to do with both flatness and skeuomorphism in different ways. The two terms are not opposites, though they're interrelated.
Personality, emotional response, understanding etc is derived from a whole spectrum of inputs - colour, composition, depth, language, context
I agree. Those elements have suffered too under the modern minimalist purview.
I think this article brings up a lot of good points, and I'm glad we have people like Eli in the community to raise these issues and discuss them openly. However, this piece by itself seems to just be complaining about flat design (props for incriminating all the major players like Apple, Google, etc. and not just one) without giving a reason for why it should change or what issues arise with it. So what if Google's products don't have a wide range of design? The point of Material is to have a unified experience across all of their products. First you must pick which one you want: variance in design or uniformity in design? You can't have both at once.
Maybe this article will make more sense once the other parts are released. We'll see. I've enjoyed your work so far, Eli.
However, this piece by itself seems to just be complaining about flat design (props for incriminating all the major players like Apple, Google, etc. and not just one) without giving a reason for why it should change or what issues arise with it...Maybe this article will make more sense once the other parts are released. We'll see.
There's much more to come on those fronts.
I've enjoyed your work so far, Eli.
Glad to hear it
I'm an Android user, so I can really only speak for the Google app ecosystem, but here's something that I've noticed. The Material trend seems sort of noble in its quest to aid with usability. The point is to create a familiar user experience so that people aren't surprised every time they use a new app. Presumably, users don't have to think about design and can just do the interesting work of using all of these great apps.
BUT. In practice, what happens is that UI is more or less boringly the same, but the mechanics of the user experience are either slightly or sometimes drastically different from app to app that claims to use "Material" principles.
Very interesting to hear this perspective from a day to day Android user.
Did anyone else notice that he didn't use Facebook's real app icon for the iOS 7 icon comparison? He switched it out for the Facebook Groups app icon. The Instagram one was also wrong. The app icon Instagram currently uses looks very similar to the "before" example.
This was a tough call.
For Facebook, I aimed to illustrate that the blue used to be used for the family of icons. Also, there wasn't a Facebook Groups app back then. Still, since Facebook Groups is core to the Facebook product, it seemed a half-decent comparison to point out that now it doesn't bear any resemblance to the Facebook brand.
The Apple Watch Instagram icon isn't wrong per se. It's a look at the direction they're headed.
Thanks for the explanation of why you chose those icons. That makes a lot more sense.
I think the icon Facebook is currently using for their main Facebook app is still inline with their branding. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Agreed. The new (current) Facebook icon and the current Instagram icon for iPhone are both very evocative precisely because they eschew the white icon w/ logo in the middle aesthetic.
There are fine examples of icons that still manage to keep the branding despite using the "white icon with the logo in the middle aesthetic." Like the ones from Native Instruments:
They're unique in isolation, sure.
now it doesn't bear any resemblance to the Facebook brand.
I think that might be precisely the point - to present Messenger, Groups, and so on as pseudo-separate services, since the Facebook brand is beginning to turn off younger users.
Consider the website for Messenger. The only Facebook mention on the front page is hidden away in the footer.
That's a very interesting point. Perhaps for Facebook this is a thoughtful strategy. However that wouldn't apply to other companies going with the same aesthetic.
In any case, even Facebook didn't need to ape the almost-exact gradients that Apple's using.
My theory is that Facebook made Messenger look exactly like Apple's iMessages (even on android) so that users would treat Messenger as a texting service rather than the Facebook Messenger. I have a feeling that there's a psychological effect where users would be inclined to use Facebook Nessenger more often.
That can't be true, because it's the same aesthetic on Android as iOS.
Really interesting article, I've been hearing designers talking about this a lot recently, but I do wonder if the non designers in the world (most people) actually care that digital interfaces have become more similar or if they perhaps see it as a good thing?
Although I believe that good visual design is worth investing in, I also think that individuality is sometimes over valued amongst some designer types.
Ahh, yeah. This is the good stuff. So glad you brought this to our attention, Eli. I've been concerned about the commoditization of design since all we're doing right now is rehashing stuff. And since developers pretty much have the seat, pure visual design is withering. It also explains the really low barrier-to-entry that design has now. Funny how that old adage of "someone's nephew who knows Photoshop is designing the website" has come to dangerous fruition.
As a young designer and design student, this is the kind of stuff I'm concerned about and I hope there'll be more general discussions about this moving forward.
I agreed with much of this article, until right at the end:
All that is currently permitted in visual design is the most purposeless fashionable vacuity.
I realise this probably wasn’t intended literally. Even so, I still don’t think it’s a very good characterisation of the problem today. How often are we truly restricted to designing our UIs and graphics in only this one specific style?
Yes, if you’re building something for a client then you need to meet their requirements. However, no client has ever told me they want a bland design with no brand distinctiveness, objectively poor usability, and an expected lifetime measured in months before it looks horribly dated.
And yes, if you’re limited to selling via someone’s app store and they won’t take your stuff if you don’t play by their rules, you’re stuck with a choice of following their rules or doing something else. There’s a moral about closed ecosystems in this story, but it’s a whole different post.
But otherwise, who really propagates the current flat-white trend? As far as I can see, it’s basically just big companies that have shown very little creativity for years, and “designers” whose priority is a style they can reliably implement quickly and cheaply using nothing but CSS or a native UI toolkit. In most cases, there is no good reason for anyone else to lower themselves to the same standards.