Going Flat!

One of the bigger trends of 2013 has been flat design. Adopted by Apple’s iOS7 and used in updated logos for both Facebook and Instagram, the increasingly popular style is well on its way to replacing the clunky days of 3D.

Downloads for images reflecting the flat-design trend have spiked on Shutterstock by approximately 200 percent since 2012, with the US, Brazil, Korea, Russia, and the UK leading the surge, and Japan and Italy coming in closely behind. Based on the increase, it’s clear that flat design will remain a big deal in 2014.

One reason designers have turned toward this “flat” aesthetic is a push from new technology and its need for a simpler user interface (UI). Flat design elements lend themselves to cleaner app interfaces, responsive design, and better overall interaction with visual data, such as infographics. They also facilitate easier pictorial communication across languages and cultures.

Shutterstock contributors have taken note, adding over 170,00 related images to the collection. Here are 5 of the top downloaded flat-design images of 2013:

Because this trend is going on globally, it’s also worth looking at how contributors are approaching flat design in different places. Here’s a look at the top-downloaded images in various countries.

United States



United Kingdom

Uses of Flat Design

Whilst the term “flat design” might not be a phrase you’re yet familiar with, you will definitely have noticed the concept and the design features whilst browsing the internet.

For those of you that have noticed an increase in the “drop shadow” trend in web design, the easiest way to describe flat design is to say it’s the opposite of that. Flat design is designing a website that has left behind the drop shadow and the 3D effects, and that is by all intents and purposes flat.

Flat design looks modern, fun, fresh and refreshingly simple compared to it’s 3D counterpart. Flat design is embracing the use of solid colors, sharp, well-defined typography and bold shapes. It takes away any faff and fussiness from the design making it so much easier to digest and to navigate. It’s modern and is without a doubt going to be a huge design trend this coming year.

How can you use flat design?

For me, the top selling point of flat design is the simplicity and minimalism of it. That’s not to say you need to have a simple product or minimalist brand to use this trend to your advantage. I actually like the way this trend could modernize a relatively complex or old-fashioned niche, making the information on your site easier for readers to take in and understand.

Of course, the simplicity of flat design makes it so much easier to optimize for different devices too which is another point in its favor.

We all know that mobile browsing is on the rise, and responsive design has already addressed this rise. Flat design makes web design more scalable in a similar way, because when you design with solid colors, rather than a more image based approach, you’re using less detail and so the information based footprint of your website becomes much smaller. This means it’s quicker to load and communicates faster with whatever platform your reader is using to view it on.

Where have you seen it before?

Flat design isn’t exactly new. You’ll actually notice that brands such as Microsoft had already embraced the trend a few years back, while other big brands such as Apple were too busy perfecting other techniques.

Looking back to 2007, a quick glance at the Microsoft Zune – and you can already see that clean, typography based interface taking shape. At the time it went relatively unnoticed, being overshadowed by bigger industry developments, but in 2013 it is definitely at the forefront of design trends.

Flat design treatment

Last year saw the rise of flat design, with the method taking over icons and more. The trend doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere soon, with plenty of superb examples of flat design done right and continuous flat design projects – one of which is this latest offering from Brazilian designer Leandro Urban.

So, what is flat design? Basically, it’s a minimalistic design approach that emphasizes usability. It features clean, open space, crisp edges, bright colours and two-dimensional/flat illustrations. This latest project sees those aesthetics applied to the World Cup team shields.

Including every team taking part in this year’s competition, Urban has showcased the likes of Brazil, Argentina, England and France in the minimal flat design style. Do you think the design is improved from the original or would you like flat design to disappear?

Creative design from the Nation's Capital

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