Flat Doesn't Mean Monotone

on in Design and UX
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I've noticed a disturbing trend in designs lately. With everything going to a 'flat' design look, it seems designers think that this means they also have to make everything as monotone and as bland as possible. STOP IT! All you're doing is making your apps more difficult to use. You are sacrificing usability for a 'clean' look, and it's not worth it.

My example here is with Desk.com (Sorry guys!). I'm a huge fan of Desk and have been using them for years in different capacities. When they released a preview of their new Agent Interface I was very excited... until I saw it. I really hope that they do some additional design changes to this before releasing it to the general public (It's currently in beta).

Here is the current iteration of the Desk.com interface. With a quick glance you are not only able to see which cases are open, pending and closed, but you can also tell which channel (Phone, Email, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) the ticket was submitted from. There is an easy visual separation that takes minimal effort to decipher what is going on. (Click to view larger).


Even with the smaller thumbnail, you can tell what's what. This dashboard only uses the Email and Phone channels, otherwise you would also see the Twitter and Facebook blues scattered in there as well.

Now take a look at the Agent Preview of the new system. The only color on the page is in the header and on the single pending ticket. You cannot differentiate the phone calls from the emails and open and closed tickets without stopping and actually looking at the labels. Your users should never have to think about what they are looking at.


Even the color in this thumbnail doesn't jump out at you (Yes, it looks better in full view, but still). I'm sorry, but this dashboard will make me less productive, not more-so. If it takes me longer to figure out what I'm looking at, it's going to take me longer to respond! If it takes me an extra second to understand what I need to do, it's a bad user experience and usability has gone down.

II am seeing this more and more recently, especially with the release of Apples Yosimite Operating system. Taking dark separation lines and making them barely visible. Taking once colorful (And easy to differentiate) icons and making them greyscale, or monotone throughout. Taking thick icons and making them as thin as possible.

It's barely taken hold and I'm already sick of this trend. I'm actually shocked how much Apple has done this, even in earlier versions of their OS too, like when they changed the color Sidebar icons to greyscale. GRRRR that still drives me nuts. Granted their apps aren't as bad as some, but they are still bad.

I am fully aware that flat colors reduce load times and bandwidth for apps and websites, but this is getting to be insane. I'm not saying you can't design flat interfaces, I have seem some excellent flat interfaces and design choices that don't make it a pain to use.

I don't know where to look and what to do half the time without staring at icon groups and lists because nothing stands out, it's all the same. It kind of reminds me of the drones in the 1984 Apple commercial, all dressed the same in monotone grey. Think about it. And please stop doing it.


Tagged in: design flat usability ux
Kray Mitchell hails from Calgary, Alberta, and is an educator at heart. Through speaking, workshops, consulting and training, he aims to assist people with understanding the technology that affects their day to day lives.
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