Flat Design or Material Design? How to Choose Which Will Fit Your Website Best
Most people think web design is all about making a website look “pretty.”
Most people would be wrong.
Web design is so much more than that. It considers how easy it would be for a user to navigate a website. You should, too.
Learning more about web design approaches and techniques can be greatly beneficial for your business. You might discover that another technique works better for your brand and your business goals.
In this post, we’ll discuss flat design and material design. You’ll figure out how each one can benefit your website.
A Short Intro to Skeuomorphism
Before we talk about flat design and material design, let’s backtrack a little bit.
In the early days of the Internet, people had to learn how to use a digital interface. They didn’t know where to type information, which things to click on and so forth.
Enter skeuomorphism. It’s a design principle that tries to replicate the real world online, and it made things easier for users. When people tried to use software or access websites, they didn’t have to struggle to figure out how to navigate it.
If you wanted to use an online calculator, you didn’t have to enter a bunch of complicated formulas or wonder if you were clicking on the right button.
You knew how to use the online calculator right away because it looked like the one you used in the real world. Everything was there. From the little screen at the top to the three-dimensional number buttons.
But web design has evolved.
The more people became familiar with digital interfaces, the more Skeuomorphism became obsolete.
We didn’t need things to look “real” online anymore because we had gotten used to using the Internet. All the helpful hints skeuomorphism provided became unnecessary.
Then, flat design came along.
What is Flat Design?
Flat design is a design principle revolving around how fast and easy it is to use something. It’s quite minimalist and strips a design down to only the most necessary of elements. The exact opposite of skeuomorphism.
How Flat Design Differs from Skeuomorphism
Flat design isn’t three-dimensional.
All the elements of flat design are, well, flat. There are no shadows or textures to make things look 3D and realistic. It uses bright and contrasting colours to draw a user’s eye to the important elements of a website.
Why Flat Design is Good
Flat design works better with responsive websites.
In case you didn’t know, responsive websites are websites that adjust based on the device used to view them–whether it’s a desktop, a tablet or a phone.
Flat design works best on responsive websites because its elements aren’t fixed in size. Skeuomorphism doesn’t have that flexibility. Most of its elements need to stay the same size, so adapting them to suit the variety of screen sizes to make it responsive is a nightmare.
A simple design means faster page speed, and Google loves fast websites.
Flat design only utilises the necessary elements for a website. If something is on a website using flat design, you can rest assured it has a purpose.
It loads faster compared to other websites that spend more resources on form, not function. No unnecessary images. No extra graphics just because.
Flat design makes websites easier to understand.
I’ve said this several times already, but let me say it one more time. Flat design focuses on only the important parts of a website. If it’s not important, it shouldn’t be there–a great concept for both page speed and usability.
When a user lands on a website with only the most important elements, they’ll know what to do pretty quickly. They’ll read the content and the bright colours will direct their eyes to the images they need to see. Nothing more, nothing less.
Why Flat Design is Bad
Flat design can be confusing.
Including only the necessary elements in a website and focusing on function sounds like a great idea for usability. Your website is fast, and you’re not wasting your visitors’ time.
Yes, it is a great idea but only up to a certain extent.
Sometimes, minimalism can be a bad thing.
When a user lands on a website with flat design, everything looks, well, flat. When there are no shadows, textures or motion, some users might not know which links are clickable or where to enter information. There are no helpful hints to nudge them in the right direction.
Skeuomorphism was way too obvious when giving users hints. Flat design, on the other hand, is too subtle–almost to the point of invisibility.
Flat design limits your branding options.
Simplicity is great, but it can limit what colours, shapes and textures you can use.
There are only so many colour palettes web designers can use when following the flat design principle. After a while, all flat design websites start to look the same. The sans-serif fonts, the bright colours in varying shades and the icons.
Your website looking the same as everyone else’s is definitely bad news for your business. Online, your business’s website–the design and content–have to be unique to get people to notice you.
What is Material Design?
Material design is the happy medium between skeuomorphism and flat design. It follows most of the principles of flat design but uses shadows, motion and other more “realistic” elements.
It’s a design principle developed by Google in 2014.
You might not be aware of it, but you’ve already encountered it when using Gmail, Youtube and other Google properties.
It was designed to resemble paper and ink. Like paper, the creators of material design envisioned that it would have a surface and edges. Unlike real paper, material design’s version of “digital paper” is more flexible and designers can reform it in a variety of ways.
According to Google’s official material design guide, “Material Design is inspired by the physical world and its textures, including how they reflect light and cast shadows. Material surfaces reimagine the mediums of paper and ink.”
Why Material Design is Good
Material design websites are easier to use than flat design websites.
As previously mentioned, material design uses shadows, gradients and other “realistic” elements. It makes finding links, buttons, forms and other elements easier for users.
Even users who aren’t Internet-savvy won’t find it hard to navigate a material design website. Easy navigation equals happy users. Happy users equal higher conversion rates–always a good thing when you’re doing business online.
Google prepared a vast amount of resources.
Google has vast resources about material design available online. They made it easier for web designers and developers to find answers to their questions. You’ll find modules and step-by-step instructions if you go to https://material.io/.
If you’re a designer, they have complete guidelines for a website’s layout, navigation, typography and so much more.
If you’re a web developer, they have modules for including material components in your work.
They even have tools like a material theme editor and a colour palette creator.
Google has supplied you with everything you need to get started in material design.
Why Material Design is Bad
Google developed it.
I know, I know.
Google created a material design guide and everything. So, why should it be a bad thing that they developed material design?
If a company creates a design principle, it can be hard to use that principle for their competitor’s products. For example, material design is used in Android and other Google products. But what about Apple’s iOS?
If you use material design for iOS, you run the risk of confusing users, making it harder for them to use. Imagine grabbing your iPhone and seeing the Android interface on it. You’d be disoriented and more than a little confused.
Using material design on iOS would have a similar effect.
iOS users are used to things looking a certain way when navigating it. Using a new design principle on a system they’ve been using for a long time forces them to adapt, to relearn things.
Most users will have trouble doing that.
Material design encourages the use of motion.
It believes motion or animation is an important part of design, and it is–to a certain extent.
According to Google’s material design guide, “motion focuses attention on what’s important without creating unnecessary distraction.”
That’s true. If you use motion right.
When used incorrectly, motion can distract users from what you want them to see on your website.
Let’s say your user is looking at your product page and thinking about whether to buy from you or not. Suddenly, he gets distracted by the animated button at the corner of your website.
It disrupts his train of thought. He’s not thinking about whether to buy from you or not anymore. All the tasks he has to finish that day rush back into his mind. He forgets about buying from. You have just lost a sale.
Should I Use Flat Design or Material Design?
The answer is…
Both design principles focus on making the user interface better for user experience.
Flat design isn’t better than material design and vice versa. To decide which would be better for your business’s website, ask yourself one question.
Which design principle fits your brand better?
Every brand has different needs.
If you’re in a saturated niche, material design might work better for you.
You’re probably sick of hearing this point, but flat design doesn’t include unnecessary elements. It limits the elements you could use to better brand your business, like image banners or fonts that don’t fall under the sans-serif family.
Being in a saturated niche means you have to use everything in your arsenal–content and design–to stand out. Flat design won’t help you with that, but material design will.
If you feel like your brand is strong enough without extra design elements, flat design might be a good choice for you. Maybe your brand really is all about minimalism.
What colors, fonts and images do you think represent your business best? Will they work better with material or flat design?
What design principles are your competitors using? What will help you stand out more?
Examine your business and brand.
Having trouble deciding which principle would be best for your website? Talk to us about how we can help you decide or execute it.
Skeuomorphism is a design principle that attempted to copy real-world elements in the digital space.
Flat design and material design are two website design principles that have emerged in the last couple of years.
Flat design is very minimalist, uses bright colours, and only includes necessary elements in a website. It prioritises function over form.
Material design is somewhere between flat design and Skeuomorphism.
Material design isn’t better than flat design and vice versa. It all depends on your main goals and priorities for your business’s website.
Before redesigning your website with flat design or material design principles, think about your goals. Which would help you achieve them faster and better?
If you’d like to learn more about flat or material design, our web designers would be glad to help. Talk to us now. Give us a call on (02) 8211 0668 to see how we can help or email us at [email protected]
A self-professed book and digital marketing nerd, Darlyn Herradura focuses on building trust between customers and businesses with the written word. She understands that creating valuable content is the best way to get found online and happily spends her time doing that.