I recently read a beautifully articulated piece ‘Fall of the Designer’ by Eli Schiff. The article covers the history of the trends in the digital design world and its worth reading.

The only issue is that there are a lot in the article that I disagree with.

He argues that the rise of flat design or the modern minimalistic design movement that was started by iOS7 and material design, has led to the devaluation of the work of visual designers in today’s world. Being a student of architecture this situation of rising flat design seems similar to the table rasa that was developed by the Modern European architects in the start of the 20th century.

These architects replaced the elaborate ornamentation prevalent in the tines of the beaux arts, art nouveaux and the art deco styles that were present before them. They used to and still believe that these pastiched characters on building were a wrong portrayal in the modern time. Instead of this their core principles were based on form following function and the use of new building techniques using concrete, steel, glass and mass reproduction. This is exactly the same thing that has happened in the world of the internet 100 years later.

Before the rise of flat design the digital world had website designs were overloaded with ornamental and superfluous features; these features were considered to give meaning to the overall product but were in fact a distraction from what the user wanted – a product that works. As pointed out by Ludvik Herrara, the visual style of flat design is not something new. This is something that has continued for centuries in the form of modernization. This modernization has started seeping into the web world especially in UI design recently primarily because of the changing user expectation in the past 5 years.

The users no longer want to look at the details, they want to be able to use it. All this is because of the growing software interaction of the user and their need to go through the contents. The UI features have gone back into oppressiveness. Results for skeuomorphic on the left, flat design on the right. One could not be said to be more expressive or meaningful than the other. Just like Eli expresses his point of view on the fall of the detail oriented Skeuomorphic design, he also mocks the flat design movement of today. After all – both of these are fashions. The only difference is that one fashion is more relevant for now.

Even if we are comparing the two, it will be incorrect to say that one shows more character, meaning and skill. Its like comparing apples to oranges. It will be wrong to say that the flat design has reduced the importance of designers. The effort that may go in designing an app icon today compared to the app icons 5 years back may be a fraction but you cannot forget that the overall effort in the thought process is probably much more. I am sure there will be a lot of non-designers who are using shortcuts in the form of free UI kits, flat color palettes and website templates but their work will be mediocre as compared to the work of a design expert. If you think that users might not be able to tell the difference, you are wrong. The user of today is much smarter than you think.

Eli rightly points out that the perceived importance of craftsmanship in terms of visual design has reduced and this is something that is also a popular belief since the arrival of flat design. With the flat design the different elements of digital design have reduced in importance or are no longer needed – for example UX and animation have lost their importance considerably. This is not something that is negative and not a lot of people may have lost their jobs because of this as a designers main job is not to add texture to a football on a 120×120 icon. After all a true designer is more than a technician.

What even is a real button anyway?

The argument also looks at another key element, which is the ‘expressive’ textured and shadowed design style is what lays the foundation of the ‘user centric experience’. This will be a wrong statement as the design button isn’t and should never be the main focus. With the increasing use of smartphones nowadays the argument of skeuomorphic design being needed for the user to find their way around the website is becoming debatable. Users nowadays don’t need physical looking buttons to interact with a website or digital applications. At times a simple ‘Click Here’ is enough to make a user realize it is a button. If you look at your daily life, how many physical buttons other than those on a TV or air conditioner remote do you press in a day? Now think of the buttons on a smartphone and laptop screen that you interact with? This pattern clearly indicates that the trend of physical buttons is slowly but surely dying out. We need to move forward from the design of the past and plan for the design of the future. To be honest even Apple has not been able to perfect this, but still they were brave enough to take the first step. Honestly, modern minimalism will be here for a long time. However, this should not be seen as the downfall of designers. This is actually an opportunity for the designer to react correctly to the new possibilities, technologies and expectation that lie ahead of them in an ever progressing world.