Flat Design vs Material Design – which one to choose and why?

July 24, 2017

Starting with Skeuomorphic Designs and progressing through Flat and Material Design Styles, the world of UI Designs has indeed come a long way. The ongoing debate is about making a choice between the use of flat and material design styles. And before we strive to weigh our options and arrive at a conclusion, we first need to really understand the difference and pros and cons of both. A good point to start would be the skeuomorphism, the design concept that has been conventionally used for UI designs.

What is Skeuomorphism?

Skeuomorphism is the design concept that attempts to imitate the real-world counterparts of the objects in design using retro style decorative elements such as drop shadows, gradients, textures and everything that adds an element of three-dimensionality. While the examples of visual skeuomorphism include buttons that need to be pressed shown as raised to a high level and brought down to a lower level once pressed, the non-visual ones include, the page turning movement for e-books.

As the skeuomorphic elements strive to imitate the real-world objects, it lacks digital usability in terms of website load speed of loading, performance and a clear focus on the website content. Soon, the need for a design style with better digital usability was felt and this led us to the flat design concept.

What is Flat Design?

Flat Design is a minimalistic approach to web design that eliminates all the three dimensional and skeuomorphic elements from the design and replaces it with flat, two dimensional elements. The focus of a flat design is mainly on the usability of your design and it creates a positive experience for the user with improved website performance and the neat look of the layout and content. In this case, the designers get creative with different typographies, colors and flat icons to innovate with their designs. Another good thing about the flat designs is that these look equally good on all screens regardless of their resolution. This does not only enhance the user-experience, it makes things easier for the designers as well.

It is true that the appearance takes a back-seat when it comes to flat designs and the entire focus is on the usability of the design, but if taken too far, the flat designs run the risk of resulting into generic looking designs that lack innovation in their look and feel. Moreover, eliminating the options of using shadows, gradients, textures and the other three-dimensional design elements further limits the scope for creativity in the design. And the biggest drawback of this ‘back-to-basics’ approach is that it is difficult to tell apart the clickable buttons from the static vector graphics. This led everyone into appreciating the fact that the flat designs have followed a drastic approach at removing every single trace of skeuomorphism from web design. Hence the need for a style was felt that would take a middle-ground between skeuomorphism and going totally flat so that the websites can enjoy the best of both the worlds.

What is Material Design?

Material Design refers to a set of design standards developed by Google which basically adds an element of skeuomorphism back to the flat designing concept in such a way that it can make the most of our inherent ability to associate depths with the level of importance assigned to each element.

The good thing about material design is that its three-dimensional arrangement allows the programs to easily interact with one another. For example, in case of material designs, drop shadows are used to depict the layers. And material design comes with a specific set of guidelines wherein everything for the designer is easy and predictable. Moreover, it serves to add user-friendliness to the design, when it comes to designs that cater to multiple platforms with a consistent experience across all platforms. It is also conducive of adding animation to your designs with its built-in ones which eliminate the need for you to develop the same manually.

With all these advantages, come a few setbacks as well. Material design, being closely tied to Google, necessitates the use of Google’s guidelines to create it and therefore, it can not only be a challenge to really create a unique identity for your website or application but it can also affect the creativity of the designer by limiting them with the set guidelines. Not all the systems could be competent to pull off the needed framerates and in such a case, it is difficult to figure if anything can be done to improve the usability of such systems. Also, the animations used in material design can drain the battery of the mobile devices.

To conclude, material design is not too different from flat design since both are based on similar neatness and focus more on the usability than the aesthetics. It is just that material design strives to make the design more user -friendly while maintaining the performance and digital usability of your website with the elements of flat design, to which, now, just a pop of layers has been added for better aesthetics and visualization.

When it comes to making a choice between flat and material design styles, if pragmatism and sheer usability is what you are looking for, flat design is what you should opt for. So, for a simple website aiming to cater to a wide variety of users on different platforms, a flat design will help you perform better with its neat and uncluttered approach. However, if fairly well-performing as well as highly usable website is what you need, material design could be the perfect choice for you to make. So, if you need to have a fancier website that’s abound with user-friendly graphics and animations, material design is what you should consider.

Out of all these popular design styles, which one would you choose, when and why? Feel free to leave us a comment and share your opinion .

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