The state of User Experience/User Interface (UX/UI) design today is rapidly changing along with new innovations. There are numerous differing opinions amongst hot topics such as flat vs. skeumorphic design and mobile first. UX/UI designer Pep Trias helps us get a grip on all the fast-paced changes and what they mean for the design community.
Flat is here…
Ever since Android and the Windows Phone adopted a flat graphical style, and especially after iOS7 showed up on the scene, techies have been talking about the new flat design trend everywhere. Apple used to adopt a type of graphic styling called skeuomorphic design, meaning that its interface elements emulated reality. For example, if the app was a compass, it was supposed to have a glassy detail and a metal textured needle. Graphic designers have gotten used to following up on Apple’s innovation when it comes to their graphical interface, but because Apple has such a strong presence in the tech space, its competitors, ex. Android and Windows Phone, have had to differentiate in some way, and as a result came up with a much flatter approach. Apple was innovative in skeuomorphic design, but they reached a point where their competitors were innovating more than them, so they had to move towards flat as well and develop it even further. New graphics will still make references to the real world but won’t represent items with the amount of realism done thus far.
…But it’s not just about aesthetics!
Flat makes much more sense; it gives clarity, among many other things, and allows us to get rid of all these realistic effects, leaving only what is really essential. Now that iOS is going flat a lot of people are crying, but I think Apple is re-educating the design community as they did before with skeuomorphism. It’s been clearly proven that software can keep and even improve upon its functionality without making use of so much visual information and detail. I’m sure our brains will appreciate the de-cluttering.
What Apple has done with color in iOS7, using them in relevant elements, is very interesting. The action buttons always have a color so your eyes can easily recognize which part of the screen will respond to your actions. I think color is going to be used in a much more direct way from now on.
It seemed like interfaces were trying to compete with content, like ‘look at me I am so fancy’ and claiming to be “lickable”, but that created too much noise we don’t need. Design is something built over content. If your app is about photos, let photos have the main role, same with emails or anything else. Take everything else to a secondary level. However, flat graphical design can be quite radical so we need time to digest these changes and evolve our style to adopt it properly. It can’t be done right overnight.
On the other hand, it’s impossible to keep all skeuomorphic details out of a flat design. Elements such as shadows and depth indicators, like many other subtle details, will definitely remain where they are for a long time.
The most important change that flat is bringing to the design teams is the fact that the layer style master is no longer needed. Instead, what is really needed is a true UX expert that is able to bring life to flat interfaces and make it feel responsive and alive.
Mobile first can be combined with “All devices at once” design
Mobile first has been around for a few years now and it’s a good way to construct responsive design structures for content that has to be consumed on many different resolutions, but first look at how the content is spread amongst the other destinations. If in the beginning you take in all resolutions thresholds at once, you can get a better overview of how the content will change and adapt. Then, you can better understand how to organize information before getting too deep into the mobile part. This is all very new and we have to test the different design approaches to see what works best. Responsive design is good for an all-resolutions approach and can help you prepare for new devices in the upcoming years that we cannot foresee now. There’s been a tendency to increase screen sizes but I think this is going to stop soon. We’ve covered every screen from 3 inches to 6 inches and this is already too much. Any bigger and the phone will be a tablet.
Having an active attitude towards fast changes
New devices are going to need new UI/UX solutions. We’ve been seeing that companies are developing smart watches, glasses, and many other things that aren’t smart phones. Our body has many ways to interact with the world so the devices in the lab coming out soon are going to be very different from the devices that we currently interact with. There are many new possibilities, like touch-less gesture software and hardware that developers are going to need to develop solutions for. The world of tech is changing very fast, and new products and software appear every year. As designers and developers, we should be actively dedicating part of our work hours to research and investigate better, smarter, and more efficient ways to work and create better products. It’s fun to do, and highly beneficial to all of us to keep that attitude in mind.
Even the way we innovate is changing
It used to be mainly big tech companies that lead innovation, but since many of their tools have been open to small developers, we’ve seen some amazing things come from the latter. Tiny teams are nowadays competing with big companies and doing a very good job in creating new solutions for both hardware and software products. That’s the power of the developers community that’s rising. For example, Photoshop is a design software with an amazing heritage and development team behind it that’s been around for many years, but if you compare it to Sketch, which is being developed by two guys, you clearly realize that these two are doing better when it comes to developing a tool that is interface design focused. They can produce good software thanks to the amazing tools that are at their disposal. Not to mention that these little studios are being bought like hell by big companies such as Apple, Google, and Yahoo. This is only proof that if you give the right tools to the right people, incredible things can be done. There’s a lot of talent in the world. I wonder if the next big innovation has to come from a big company.
A Brave New World
There’s a huge change going on right now in how design innovations are being created and how easily people can create on their own. I think in some years from now we will be experiencing even bigger and better changes. As long as new hardware comes up, new interfaces will be needed until the day we might not need any interface at all and information flows directly to our brains, ordered and clear…but I don’t want to see that happen. Anyways, it’s an interesting moment right now and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s going to happen in the developer community in the following years. One of the things that I enjoy the most about being part of this community is seeing what kind of solutions people come up with and how can we come up with new ideas in response.
Design doesn’t make any sense if we don’t test it
We designers can come up with beautiful, smart, and pleasant interface experiences, but if we don’t test their performance, and their behaviour, how will we know if we are doing our jobs the right way? We are here to create experiences that not only give positive feedback to the user but also allow our software solutions to work and achieve the right results, otherwise all the work that is done will lose its meaning and purpose.
User testing and analytics are the keys to determinine whether or not the direction taken is the right one, and also to show the flaws that are blocking our work from performing properly. They should be part of every design process from start to end to assure that UI and UX are following the right path.
Pep, UI/UX Designer @ DMI
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Image courtesy: Pep Trias