Flat or Material Design: Which is Better?

By Alyssa Wyngard, Interactive Designer

Published: March 12, 2018

Don’t let your design ideas fall flat! While flat design has been popular for many years, material design is pushing it out of the way. Read why we agree that material design is the way to go.

Flat Design

The visually simplistic flat design trend rode the waves of design for many years. Flat design is known to be … well, flat. It is comprised of two-dimensional figures that lack depth and dimension, such as shadows, highlights and textures.

Flat design began as a backlash against skeuomorphism, a style that represents real-world objects or processes. Skeuomorphism uses effects like drop shadows, realistic textures, reflections, beveling and embossing.

Popularity of flat design rose in 2012 and 2013 with the release Windows 8 and iOS 7. The benefits of flat design  — clear, simple and compatible with responsive design — cleared the path for the rise of this design trend. But with every positive quality comes a negative one. Flat design can make it hard to tell what is or isn’t clickable (since everything is on the same visual plane). Important features and actions, such as a call-to-action button, can be hidden from view in the pursuit of simplicity. The simplicity of this trend often results in designs that look very or somewhat similar.

flat versus material design
Source: Google

Material Design

If flat design is a building with one floor (one visual plane), then material design is the building that towers above it (many visual planes). Material design is a visual language created by Google that is similar to flat design and features “deliberate color choices, edge-to-edge imagery, large-scale typography, and intentional white space” for a bold, graphic look. This trend features paper-like layering of surfaces to represent various visual planes. In short, material design is an improved version of flat design that incorporates animations, shades and layers. Material design makes the product feel more intuitive when it comes to navigation, yet maintains its simplicity.

Material design also has a number of benefits that can make it more appealing than flat design. Currently, material design is a more popular trend for the following reasons:

  • Material design gives life to components.
  • According to Google, “The fundamentals of light, surface and movement are key to conveying how objects move, interact, and exist in space and in relation to each other. Realistic lighting shows seams, divides space and indicates moving parts.”
  • This design trend is user-friendly because the shadows on elements make it easy to distinguish what is clickable and what is not.
  • Material design is also developer-friendly because specific guidelines are provided by Google.

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