Flat Design Decreases User Efficiency

Flag design became solidified as an esthetic around 2020, and it was a little controversial at the time. Since then, it’s become more popular. It’s moved from something that we used to only see and cutting edge design spheres to the more mainstream web. In many ways, that’s good because flat interfaces are often also minimalist, very clean and uncluttered. But what can be bad about flat interfaces is that often in order to achieve that super clean, super flat design esthetic, many designers will leave out important clues that tell people where they can click, where they can go and an interface. We refer to those clues as signifiers. So when those signifiers are left out altogether or when they’re weakened or they’re less traditional or less noticeable, or they’re less consistent with presentations of the same element on other sites, then you end up in a situation where users aren’t really sure what they can do in a Web page. They’re more reliant on things like placement. So maybe a user sees what’s meant to be a footer and they think to themselves, OK, I’ve seen groups of links at the bottom of the page before like this. So I think I can click these or they’re reliant on labeled text. So maybe a user sees some text that looks like static text, but it says add to cart so they understand that they can click or tap it or maybe they’re relying on. However, we see this a lot now in testing, especially when we’re testing flat uses where users will move their mouse around a page to see if their cursor turns into a hand to see if something’s clickable. But that’s really a crutch. And of course, it doesn’t transfer over to mobile. So now we see that people are guessing whether or not things are clickable and sometimes they get it right and it works OK, but sometimes they get it wrong and then they get frustrated. So we’re seeing that this design trend is actually decreasing user efficiency. So what can you do as a designer? Just make sure you’re never sacrificing clarity in order to achieve an esthetic.

Making the website look attractive is extremely important, but it has to be balanced with usability. And the surest way to know if something will be clear to your users is to actually test with them.

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