The notion of flat, “digitally authentic” design has lately been a popular topic of conversation and controversy, especially with the software design efforts of Apple, Microsoft, and their respective flagship operating systems. Subtle colors, light typography and the other commonalities of modern flat design are components of the design trends many are coming to love (or hate).

Safari icon, before and after

Safari’s current icon on the left versus its flat version. The latter foregoes lighting effects, bevels and other details to create an attractive flat alternative while still retaining the compass metaphor.

While many specifics of the constituent theories that form the concept of flat, digitally authentic design, this design form has evolved as a move away from skeuomorphic, metaphorical design.

Skeuomorphism is the term one applies to a trend where elements of a graphical user interface mimic a physical object. For example, a skeuomorphic note-taking app may resemble a lined yellow legal pad. Skeuomorphism exists in many different industries but in the context of web and software design, designers know skeuomorphism primarily as the technique of using metaphors to induce familiarity.

Many examples of flat design exist. In this post the efforts of Microsoft and Apple wll be examined, due to their collective wide reach. Also, each of these companies are likely candidates to establish significant style guidelines that designers can investigate in order to emulate their interpretation of flat design.

Microsoft opted for one of the most radical and controversial redesigns of recent times with Windows 8. Its creation of the design language formerly known as Metro (now known as the Microsoft Design Language, but with the former term often colloquially applied) was first seen in widespread use with Windows Phone (and also in Zune, the platform’s inaugural design). It was Windows 8’s 2012 release that shined a light on the flat design trend.

Windows 8’s start screen breaks away from its former desktop design, being composed of flat, colorful live tiles, instead of icons. The tiles are not merely a stylistic choice: They allow useful information to be displayed on the start screen in the manner of a dashboard.

While Microsoft and others were making major changes to their design languages, Apple stuck by its skeuomorphic principles through multiple generations of its operating system. That changed with the announcement of iOS 7, taking a drastically different step in the design of the OS. Icons are flatter, typography is lighter and the metaphors are out.

iOS calculator app, before and after

Image courtesy of Smashing Magazine

This is particularly evident with iOS when you compare the current iteration of, say, the calculator app to its iOS 7 counterpart. That particular app has jumped from trying to resemble a physical device with buttons signified by gradient backgrounds to a completely flat design independent of any unnecessary metaphors.

The flat interface style is more than a trend. It is the manifestation of a desire for greater authenticity in design, a desire to curb visual excess and eliminate the fake and the superfluous.

This article excerpted courtesy Connor Turnbull, tutsplus

7 great typefaces

Type selection can be a daunting process for designers. As a result, many have at the ready a few Teflon choices. What follows is a list of seven such typefaces (sorry, paring down to five was too difficult) that most designers will agree may never go out of fashion.

The subject of a feature film documentary, Helvetica makes the list despite its ubiquity. Originally created in 1957 by Swiss designer Max Meidinger, over the years a staggering array of variations (condensed, compressed, extended, expanded, etc.) have been added to the family. Excellent for conveying information clearly and quickly.

A slab, or square serif typeface, originally created 1845 by English designer Robert Besley, Clarendon was one of the first faces to be officially registered. Used extensively by the German Empire during World War I and more recently adopted by the U.S. National Park Service for its signage. Acclaimed for its uniform, heavy lines and legibility, Clarendon has proved its worth to designers everywhere.

Relatively new on the scene (1988) and designed by Adrian Frutiger, the name Avenir means “future” in French. With nods to Futura and Erbar, the typeface is decidedly humanist—casual yet elegant. Excellent in business applications for both display and text.

Gill Sans
Inspired by his early apprenticeship to London Underground typeface designer Edward Johnston, author and designer Eric Gill created his first typeface around 1926. It was adopted heavily by the London and North Eastern Railway system, appearing on signage and in advertising throughout Britain. In 1997, the BBC adopted Gill Sans as its corporate typeface. Gill Sans is equally at home in print or on computer screens.

Franklin Gothic
Versatile when set for body text, billboards or newspaper headlines, American designer Morris Fuller Benton’s Franklin Gothic became hugely popular in North America and Great Britain thanks to its strikingly solid appearance. Franklin Gothic is the official typeface of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Known primarily for Apple Computer’s widespread usage of it, Myriad was designed in the early 1990s by Robert Slimbach and Carol Twombly for Adobe. Clean and legible, yet playful with an easy-going sophistication, Myriad adapts to a variety of environments and concerns.

Futura + Futura Extra Bold sample
Extremely simplistic with a geometric form, Futura was designed by Paul Renner and commercially released in 1927. The distinctive extra bold face was added in 1955. No doubt Renner took cues for Futura’s design from the German Bauhaus school of art and architecture who employed similar type styles. Today, logos by Adidas and Absolut Vodka take inspiration from Futura, and a commemorative plaque left on the Moon in July 1969 features text set in Futura.

Did I leave out your favorite? Leave a comment and let me know why.