The world of mobile design is flat

With Apple famously moving toward flat design with iOS7, a lot of mobile app designers wonder if they should do the same. We’re not going to tell you to ditch gradients, effects, or skeuomorphism—the practice of mimicking a real object’s look and function—if they’re working for you. At the same time, we can’t ignore the fact that flat design appeals to users as being new and fresh.

Whether you like it or not, flat design a white-hot trend. Three things that make it work:

  1. Clean, bold blocks of color
  2. Striking typography
  3. Simplified user interfaces

So how do you do it without sacrificing usability? Here are a few tips to ensure your app looks fresh and modern without oversimplifying to the point where your users can’t find their way around.

Think about color

Whether you go for the retro look of a Coffely, the bright bold palette favored by Windows 8 and the Samsung Smart Home app, or a monotone scheme, color plays a prominent role in flat design. It can indicate actions, status, levels or simply highlight different areas of your app.

According to design blog DesignModo, the important thing to remember is that even when using different shades, the colors should match in tone and saturation for a consistent look.

Use fonts wisely

With fewer visual clues, words can be more important in flat design. They tell users what to do next or communicate important messages. Typography has to be clear and readable with a font that complements your design.

Most apps with good examples of flat design stick with sans serif fonts. They’re clean and readable, and you can use various weights and sizes to create visual interest, call attention to important features, or establish importance. Often you’ll see a more eye-catching font against a sleek background. The trick is to use only one artistic font with simpler accent text. Otherwise you risk a hot mess rather than a hot trend.

Simplify your UI

A big reason behind flat design’s popularity is that it looks simple and easy to use. The less thought a user has to put into figuring out your app to achieve the desired result, the more appealing they’ll find it. By creating a simple consistent look through the app, you can help your users progress smoothly.

A word of caution: Design should enhance usability, not look pretty for the sake of it. So if you think usability would be enhanced with a 3D effect or a little shading, go ahead.

With IOS7 on the horizon and the Windows 8 Metro and Android flat design looks in place, it seems likely that this is a trend that will stick around for a while.  Focus on making every visual element useful to the user and you’ll be making the best of it.

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