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

10 color tools

Links, books, and tools for designers

Just about every designer has used color wheels. But today there are many other aids available, from hex code palettes, to books, to infographics. What follows are 10 resources crucial to the designer’s arsenal.

01 Flat UI Colors
Simply click on the desired color displayed by this web app, and it will copy the HTML hex code to your device’s clipboard.

10 color tools for designers
02 ColourLovers
Most loved! An oldie but goodie…

10 color tools for designers
Hover your mouse around to select the color, click and it will save it for you.

10 color tools for designers
A browser of words formed from HTML hex codes—displays colorful words in action.

10 color tools for designers
05 Mudcube Sphere
An interactive color visualizer. Clear as mud!

10 color tools for designers
06 Color Scheme Designer
Another classic color picker.

10 color tools for designers
07 Color Design Workbook
A real-world guide to using color in graphic design, by Terry Lee Stone, Sean Adams, Noreen Morioka

10 color tools for designers
08 Color
A course in mastering the art of mixing colors, by Betty Edwards. Great guide for teaching kids (and grownups) about color theory.

10 color tools for designers
09 Pantone Color Resource
Color: Messages and Meanings, by Leatrice Eiseman. Explains the suggestive meanings behind color.

10 color tools for designers
10 Pantone Guide
Guide to communicating with color, by Leatrice Eiseman. Stylish, modern, and utterly sophisticated, this vibrant calendar celebrates a classic, charismatic, and undeniably inspiring pairing: fabulous color in combination with great design.

10 color tools for designers

Courtesy Gisele Muller, Web Design Ledger

Type design trends for 2012

Type designers are some of the hardest working people in design. They demonstrate a passion required to build a typeface and of necessity must be sticklers for detail.

Over the last few months, a trend toward basics, legibility, and elegance define the current state of type design.

Read on as we select some of the type trends that will inspire designers to think differently about typography.

01 Ligature discretion

Discretionary ligatures like Siruca enable you to create pictograms with type

Discretionary ligatures like Siruca enable you to create pictograms with type

OpenType has a feature called discretionary ligatures, making it possible to do some really interesting things when certain letters are typed in a certain order. Take Fabrizio Schiavi’s Siruca for instance; a font which, when you type the word ‘car’, a car pictogram appears.

02 Simplicity and legibility redefined

Trio Grotesk by Florian Schick is simple, elegant and modern

Trio Grotesk by Florian Schick is simple, elegant and modern

If you’ve seen the excellent iA Writer app for both Mac and iPad, you’ll no doubt have noticed its set-back, minimalist yet hugely legible monospaced typeface, Nitti. It’s a font from the foundry Bold Monday, a Dutch outfit that designs both commercial and custom fonts.

Bold Monday’s faces are leading the trend of simple, elegant yet modern typefaces; from Panno Sign, which was designed for the romanisation of street names in South Korea, to its newest release Trio Grotesk – Florian Schick’s personal interpretation of Kaart Antieke, an early 20th century sans serif used by Piet Zwart in his essay about modern typography, “Van oude tot nieuwe typografie”.

Another example is Dalton Maag’s excellent custom font for Nokia.

03 Slick stencils

Type Together created this slick, bespoke stencil font for Levi's

Type Together created this slick, bespoke stencil font for Levi’s

Stencils are back with a vengeance, and a fantastic example of a slick, contemporary stencil is Levi’s, a font designed by Type Together for the jeans brand, commissioned by Wieden and Kennedy. Based on Paratype’s version of Bodoni, you could arguably group it into trend 05, but we feel stencils deserve their own entry.

04 Didone is back

Rick Banks' F37 Bella is at the forefront of a revival in Didone typefaces

Rick Banks’ F37 Bella is at the forefront of a revival in Didone typefaces

If there’s one font that sums up the revival of Didone typefaces, it’s Rick Banks’ F37 Bella. A useful and stylish font, Banks has just released a Heavy version for those wanting to use it a bit smaller (at smaller point sizes the original’s serifs could disappear).

These hyper-thin hairline serifs and strong contrasts between thick and thin lines, make it a modern classic in the Didot classification. It’s a stunningly elegant font for headlines; online and especially in print. A bargain at £35 per weight.

Other nice examples include Neutura’s Estrella typeface.

05 Classics revived

Garçon Grotesque is one of many classic fonts to be revived by modern designers

Garçon Grotesque is one of many classic fonts to be revived by modern designers

Type designers love reinterpreting classic fonts in new ways. There have been many examples over the past year, but one that stands out is the release of Garçon Grotesque.

A contemporary interpretation of Copperplate Gothic, Garçon Grotesque is a sophisticated typeface designed in a multitude of weights with extended Latin character set, small capitals and a working lowercase.

You can buy it at Myfonts, starting at $50. An example of a face being revived by a modern foundry is Commercial Type’s revival of Max Miedinger’s Neue Haas Grotesk (the font that became Helvetica).

Courtesy Creative Bloq

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.

Scion vs. Sinclair

Compare logos of Scion and SinclairLeave it to a 14-year-old to point out to this “experienced” designer that automaker Scion has a logo very similar to the Sinclair computer, marketed to Americans in the early-1980s by Timex. He ought to know, he is my son—a gifted computer programmer—well-schooled with vintage computing devices. As of this writing, design bloggers have yet to take notice of the resemblance. While the Scion designer did add a nifty bit of flair by rounding the edges, the similarity is unmistakable.

I reckon my son has made a true discovery—and uncovered either an homage to a great-looking logo from the past, or a case of another sneaky corporate design rip-off.

As an ironic aside, Sinclair’s founder, Clive Sinclair, boldly told the Guardian UK, “I don’t use a computer at all!”

NYC condom wrapper design contest

NYC CondomWith more than 15,000 online votes, Luis Acosta, a 29-year-old graphic designer from Queens, New York, won the NYC condom package design contest. The New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced that Acosta’s design with an “on” power button would adorn six million limited-edition free condoms set for release this year.

“I hope my package design reminds people that they’re in control. We all have the power to protect ourselves from sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS and unplanned pregnancies,” said Acosta.

First introduced by the health department on Valentine’s Day 2007, the NYC condom is the United States’ first municipally branded prophylactic. More than 40 million of the male condoms will be distributed free in city bars, clinics, gyms and other locations. This year is the first for a wrapper design contest.

Dr. Monica Sweeney, the assistant New York City health commissioner, said, “We want everybody to think and talk about condoms all the time.”

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.

5 terrible typefaces

There are various reasons for qualifying a typeface as terrible for use in professional design. Some are overused, illegible, ugly, excessively cute, or a combination thereof. The following are the five worst, painstakingly ranked (and sure to be avoided) by yours truly.

A monospaced slab-serifed typeface designed in 1955 and originally intended for electric typewriters, whenever I see Courier used in print, I imagine the designer or printer failed to provide the proper font and Courier was its replacement by default. Handy only for computer coders who need columns of aligned text.

Monotype Corsiva
The de facto choice when a lazy designer/printer wishes to add some “elegance” to a business card or invitation. Illegible and clunky. Must resist.

Brush Script
Designed in 1942 and it looks it. Illegible. Vulgar. For added fun, try using it in all caps.

Since the 1990s, Papyrus has been made available to just about every computer in the world. And its use has exploded. I am sure poor Papyrus designer Chris Costello never intended text to be set at 12 point size! Film director James Cameron damned the torpedoes by famously using a variation of the typeface for his Avatar movie poster. Unfortunate.

Comic Sans
The “best worst” typeface ever, and a product of Microsoft. This casual and “cute” typeface designed by Vincent Connare in 1995 is the ultimate in amateurishness. There is even a movement to ban Comic Sans. Avoid using it, even if designing a comic!

Runners up were Curlz MT, Lazybones, Times New Roman, and Arial. Did I leave out your favorite? Leave a comment and let me know why.

The logo is (not) in the bag

Bottega Veneta handbagAre you a patrician, parvenu, poseur, or prole? Old money or new money? A recent study by the USC Marshall School of Business examines levels of wealth, social status, and wealthy consumers’ desire to associate with those in their own caste. After studying preferences of luxury goods, the authors sorted consumers into four categories according to the subjects’ affinity for “loud” goods or “quiet” goods. The categories are:

  • Patricians — wealthy consumers who prefer quiet goods that only other wealthy can recognize. (The $2,000 Bottega Veneta handbag shown above is an example; the logo appears only on the inside.)
  • Parvenus — wealthy consumers who desire status and flaunt loud luxury goods in the face of the less affluent. (Many Gucci products sport screaming logos, as do Louis Vuitton’s.)
  • Poseurs — consumers who can’t afford luxury goods, yet buy counterfeit luxury goods to “emulate those who they recognize to be wealthy” (e.g., that “Rolex” watch offered for sale by the man on the sidewalk.)
  • Proletarians — those “not driven to consume for status’ sake”

These findings will present challenges for marketers of luxury goods. USC’s study reveals that shrieking designer logos may actually reflect a lower price point than their more subtle counterparts. The authors call upon manufacturers to develop subtle cues to distinguish the brand, such as Gucci’s use of bamboo rather than its insignia. Also, ubiquity may in fact tarnish the brand and promote loss in value. And finally, the study recommends marketers resist the “pyramid” approach to luxury and to consider marketing to all consumers.

Sanctuary screen printing in Austin

South Side Sanctuary El CaminoIn a warehouse in South Austin, the talented artists of South Side Sanctuary toil away on their computers and at their presses creating fashion that comments on art, music and fashion itself. Leaders Jon Pattillo and Jed Taylor do this for fun, cranking out three to five thousand t-shirts per month of their own design. But their designs are anything but mass-produced. Services also include custom designed screen-printed t-shirts, letter press-printed posters and business cards, banners, murals, and stickers. The duo started out creating merch for a record label and its touring bands. Today the company is housed in a 5,000 square foot location on South Congress Avenue. In addition to the three screen printing presses, SSS operates a 1947 Kluge open-face letterpress.

During this past year’s SXSW festival, the SSS crew could be seen rolling around town in their super-rad 1979 El Camino “delivery vehicle” equipped with a working screenprinting press in the truck bed.