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After so much scientific proof to the contrary, maybe — just maybe — the world is flat.

No longer are we trying to capture realism with Apple’s former vanguard in skeumorphism.  No longer are we slapping a ton of gradients and drop shadows everywhere.  No way.  That’s the past.  The future is flat design.  And the future is coming on very quickly, accelerated I believe more so than ever by Apple’s WWDC ’13 conference which began yesterday.

Why do we call it flat?  It’s not really flat, is it? Nope, what that really means is a termination of the use of dimension-creating effects: reflections, drop shadows, gradients, etc.  Flat, in some ways, means clearer and simpler, trading the form for the function.

After watching some of Apple’s keynote presentation yesterday, particularly the iOS 7 portion, I realized that perhaps the gradients aren’t gone — just more gentle — and the drop shadows might be even more transparent, but subtly there.  Part of what Apple is going for, it appears, is a way to not seem as “flat” as Windows’ interface, rather to retain its own unique brand and style of user interface. For apple, I believe flat might mean simpler, not necessarily flat in the present buzzword sense.

I believe the appearance of iOS 7 represents Apple’s “take” on flat design.

The intent here is clear — get the user interface, the content, out there without clouding it with unnecessary dimension.  Dimension, mind you, can be good in design when it is handled properly, and can be well-managed with flat design. But when abused, it creates visual chaos that overcomes the function of the piece, which in the user interface realm is obviously very important.

And as I told my friend, Brad, I like where flat design is headed.  I’m more interested in accommodating a user’s ease in navigating apps, websites, etc.  Flat design has worked now for years in the print world.  Some of the most successful ad, billboard, magazine, brochure, and business card designs (not to mention others) have utilized flat design with a strong sense of minimalism without a lot of elaborate dimensionality.

Check out this site:  Some of the website examples are visually stunning.  But when you zoom out, you realize why.  The strengths are in color and typography.  You don’t need a lot of visual 3-D goodness or realism to light up your senses.  This world is soaked in color.  When it’s used well, the eye effortlessly gravitates to it.  And who doesn’t love some creative typographic presentations?  Why do you think font foundries are increasing in popularity — especially those with a unique bent?  I believe typography will be of more profound importance in the coming years with the advent of flat design’s burgeoning fame.

All that to say, I’m actually glad we’re headed into this brave new world.  I think some fear that designers won’t have to work as hard in flat design.  I completely disagree.  The challenges of designing in flat design with a nod toward minimalism is much more difficult than adapting the verisimilitude of realism.

Flat design demands that the designer very carefully consider every move, a preconceived chess game with himself.  He must face the expanse of the app, the website, whatever with a sense of care and class, and determine how best to make his flat design appear unique and strong and credible in the vast sea of its brothers and sisters.