The Short Answer: “Heck To The Yeah!”

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Employment site Dice asks “Is Flat Design Actually Awful?”, referring to the new “flat design” user interface fad.

The simple answer is “Usually”:

Jakob Nielsen, a Danish web usability guru, has co-authored a number of books on the subject of design. He is part of the Nielsen Norman group, which sparked quite a stir with a recent article about Flat UI elements causing uncertainty among users—a huge no-no. If that wasn’t damning enough, Nielsen also termed flat design a “threat to tablet usability.”

What does Nielsen mean by “uncertainty”? The firm conducted an experiment in which 71 respondents read nine pages from six different websites (topics ranged from e-commerce and non-profits to technology and finance). With some of these pages, the firm added shadows and gradients to make design elements stand out; with others, they “flattened” the design even more. The respondents found the pages with flatter design more confusing to navigate, taking an average of 22 percent longer to find a specific target.

That’s a pretty miserable result. But is flat design a pretty-looking sham? Has the entire technology industry gone down the wrong path when it comes to UX and design? Others don’t think so.

I design this stuff for a living – and when I find myself trying to guess where it is I’m supposed to “type” thing or what I’m supposed to do (the “uncertainty” mentioned in the article, which is a big black mark when it comes to system usability), I wonder; if it were an application aimed at someone like my dad, who doesn’t know or care much about computers but is being forced to interact with them more and more, how would this fly?

On the other hand, it’s good to have a mission. Vanquishing flat design is a good one.