Where to begin.
I guess it was Windows 8 tiles. Or maybe a slow trickle of website redesigns. The UI “updates” on all the common software that I use everyday.
This God. Damn. Flat. Design.
I remember thinking that when Apple’s iOS decided to move away from Skeuomorphic design that it was a terrible decision, and Steve J. would never have allowed it to go through. Listen to me Johnny Ive. You are a terrible designer, and you should be ashamed. I mean I’m sure you’re great if you’ve got someone to guide you, but shit man. The design community is a perfect example of an ‘echo chamber’ and you just rolled in there with a Fart Sound Effects tape on full blast.
UI are User Interfaces. Literally governing the way we talk to machines, and they talk to us. The beautiful thing is that we actually built the machines, and not vice-versa, so they get to learn our language instead of us learning theirs.
Now, I have a standard framework for interacting with the physical world. I’m 35, and over the past lifetime, I’ve spent every hour conciously or subconciously adding to it. Editing it. Validating it. Repeat. I learned all about gravity waay before 3rd grade science class. Things dropped down. That was it. In the same vein, buttons press, levers umm.. switch, knobs turn. These are pretty easy and intrinsic properties as demonstrated by all those annoying toys from Babys-R-Us. Levers, and buttons, and sliders all making cow noises and bright lights.
As those are all methods for me to output ONTO the world, so are there intrinsic methods for input. Some are learned, like the way that hearing your name in conversation draws your attention. Some are built-in like loud noises or flashing lights grabbing my attention.
Where am I going with all this? Well, if you’ve kept reading this far, you haven’t got much to lose by a few more paragraphs. 🙂 I want you to know that I HATE hate this epidemic of flat design. It is an utter plague upon my existence, and people are becoming so used to it, that they don’t even realize the inconvenience anymore. Since it’s birth, I’ve hated it and though surely this will die out. It’s UNUSABLE. But somehow its pretty enough to fool people into keeping it alive. And now its ensconced in the minds of all designers large and small. They know its good, because thats what everyone wants. Everyone wants it because thats what modern things look like. Modern things look that way because the goddamn designers are pumping this crap out.
Hyperlinks used to be underlined. You know what a clickable element is, and what basic text it. They did it that way for a reason. Also, visited links were purple, and new links were blue. It’s a pretty simple system, and works well. BUT. It was not beautiful enough. So now, I have to actually click something to determine if its a clickable element or not. I find myself all the time clicking on section titles, regular text, images all because it is not clear like it was over a decade ago. Is that progress?
I’ve brought this up many times to my friends and in online forums such as Reddit.com. Every single time, the masses have told me “thats how modern design works”, “obviously you don’t know anything about UX design or modern responsive practices”. Well, what I do know about is being a human, and trying to interface with this computer is some new “beautiful” language. I speak English. I’m not going to learn Italian to speak to your website because the language is more beautiful.
Which brings me to present day. The folks over at Nielsen Norman group have conducted a clinical study on these exact topics. Guess what they found. Split brains. People know that these websites and UXes are ‘better’ because they are clearly modern, but their subconscious behavior says that they have more trouble with flat sites. Eye-tracking and Timed tasks show that the functionality is significantly reduced for flat designed UIs. But at least its pretty while you’re stuck there frustrated.