Flat Graphics and the Return of Minimalism in the Digital Age

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I figure it’s time for a break on game dev news and progress, and bring up a different type of discussion, one that would better fit my blog’s direction in the past. Since there are some articles done on this topic already, I won’t bag you down with the details, but of course as usual, I am open to discussion on the matter!

“So what exactly are flat graphics?”, you’re probably wondering. Well, if you noticed Microsoft’s rebranding of their sites and particularly, the Windows Phone and Windows 8 OS, and later on even eBay’s new logo, there’s much less detail involved with the graphics than they have in the past. Flat graphics are characterized by the use of vector illustrations and a simple colorscheme (usually monochrome but there are some exceptions). Unlike their predecessors, they don’t have a shiny, glossy look to them, nor any drop shadows.

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Flat graphics are also popular with HTML5 design, due to its use of a grid layout. Since those types of sites tend to cram a lot of information all on its grid, more detailed graphics that have irregular shapes and sizes would be ineffective and too distracting. Since HTML5 is better optimized for mobile and tablet viewing, flat graphics help convey this better as a design aesthetic. In fact I noticed this use first when it came to digital design, and with everyone pushing HTML5 further, it was only a matter of time until the trend picked up elsewhere.

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Of course, the use of flat graphics as a graphic design trend goes all the way back to Soviet propaganda war posters, due to printing limitations at the time. As part of a minimalist trend though, the practice has been in use since the 1920s, influenced by both contemporary and Japanese architecture and interior design. More information about its origins can be seen at Oleg Mokhov’s article, “Minimalist Design: A Brief History and Practical Tips“.

While some can call it lazy designing, flat graphics are no different than the rest of minimalism – it’s modern and contemporary, and if you don’t believe me, visit your nearest Ikea. Doesn’t mean you have to like it in your living room or on your tablet.

Of course, the downside to all of this is that minimalism is hard to pull off, believe it or not. While it follows a “less is more” principle, how much less can the designer contribute without discarding the message and purpose they want to convey? In terms of interior design (say, an Ikea chair), how drastically can you alter and trim down the chair before it just turns into some piece of crap that fails to work as a proper chair? This is a common question for the designer, and it always has the same answer – it all lies in the execution.

As a final note, of course I like flat graphics and minimalist design. I personally love vectors, much of my digital illustration and design is that, so it makes sense for me to like all of this. It’s probably why when it doesn’t work properly (so far it has, knock on wood), I almost cringe internally and want to scream at the designer for being lazy. If you’re already ahead of the game and hate flat graphics, give yourself a pat on the back! It’s good to see people go against the flow, and if you’d like to discuss more about it, comments are open for discussion!

Next week I’ll have some actual finalized character designs for my visual novel (gasp), so if you prefer more of that stuff, hang tight! Once again, thanks for reading, and take care!