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

Classic news magazines get redesign

NYT magazine and Newsweek redesignsTwo magazines got a facelift in March—Newsweek and The New York Times Magazine. Jack Shafer reported on Slate that Newsweek editor Tina Brown initiated a complete design and content overhaul. At first glance, the cover line above the nameplate contains the usual list (“150 Women Who Shake the World”), with a cover story featuring Hillary Clinton rife with plaudits for the Secretary of State. Shafer opines Newsweek foolishly squanders pages that rave about Melinda Gates and her attempts to eradicate polio. He feels her efforts would have been impossible without clout from her husband, Bill. Tina Brown’s Newsweek draws the wrong lessons from the decline of print and the rise of the Web. In her introductory note, Brown attempts to build a case that Newsweek will “sift out what’s important, [and] pause to learn things that the Web has no time to explain.” Shafer feels the paper magazine failed to add anything apart from the web content, and feels underwhelmed by Newsweek‘s overall redesign, and disappointment by Brown’s efforts.

On the other hand, the first redesigned issue of The New York Times Magazine appears to be a triumph. Design director Arem Duplessis had the difficult task of taking an iconic weekly, already known for its fine design, and elevating it further. Duplessis raided the NYT archives and found inspiration in issues from the 1960s and ’70s—I liken them to Woody Allen’s timeless scrolling film titles. The design team chose a monochromatic color palette, and loaded its pages with typographic detail. My only complaint would be with its cover, which insists on cluttering with cover lines. (Remember, the magazine is distributed with issues of the New York Times, not as a stand-alone on the newsstand.) The cover layout feels tabloid-like, rather than the sharp and sophisticated cover we are accustomed to.

It is no doubt a work in progress and we shall anticipate each new issue with interest.

A good match: Pantone and fashion

Pantone spring 2011 colorsGraphic designers and printers have used the Pantone Matching System for ages. But many people don’t often realize how vital Pantone is to the fashion industry. To coincide with New York’s Fashion Week, Pantone released its top 10 color report for spring 2011 women’s fashion. Designers and fashion houses such as Badgley Mischka, Tommy Hilfiger, Adrienne Vittadini, Betsey Johnson, and Project Runway winner Christian Siriano read the report and chimed in with their take on the colors.

One notes at first glance the absence of primary colors. And many of the designers latched on to “Honeysuckle,” a bright red-pink hue dubbed color of the year. But who are the people who select these colors? Answer: as most things are decided—by committee. A top secret committee of 10 people meet in Europe twice a year at the invitation of Pantone, a company based in Carlstadt, New Jersey.

Pantone designer David Shah, who presides over the meeting, said he seeks opinions from a broad range of industries. “I have people who work in the car business, who work with big store groups,” Shah said. “I can’t tell you the names. They’re involved with everything from furniture through to clothing and knitwear.”

Pantone’s main business is color standards. There are 1,925 colors in Pantone’s library of textile colors, each with a unique identifying number, and the familiar swatches. This number is used to communicate color standards so that graphic designers and their printers, or fashion designers and their textile manufacturers, are on the same page.