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 Post subject: The flatness trend in UIs
PostPosted: Thu Oct 16, 2014 1:25 pm 
Smithfield
Smithfield

Joined: Sun Jun 18, 2006 7:37 pm
Posts: 5396
I came across an article that was discussing the trend against skeuomorphism, or using physical objects to represent something in a computer. For instance, a knob to turn volume, a picture of a notepad for... well a notepad. Or at least something that looks like you could go to Target and buy a notepad. Instead, UI designers are going towards flatter, cleaner elements.

One of the complaints I hear about Metro's UI is the flatness, and the choice of colors, among other things. That Aero is a great UI design that shouldn't be touched and Metro (as in the design language itself, we can ignore the apps and tiles) ruined Windows UI. But there's some issues with it. An example I go to from a useability standpoint is that it's hard to get an at-a-glance look at what window you have focus on. Another is that Aero is a resource hog, compared to other UIs, and its using those resources strictly for eye candy. In its first cut, Desktop Window Manager would happily eat up RAM if you had too many windows open. Finally, it's not very scalable... Which leads to one of the plausible reasons why there's a trend in "flatness"

Flat, simple UI elements can be made with vector graphics. If you look at the many icons and buttons in Windows 7, they're all bitmaps. Bitmaps don't scale very well to higher resolutions. It's like bumping up the zoom in a web browser (which is also struggling to keep up with the high DPI world). Also, going with simpler designs lets users focus more on the content of the window, rather than on the chrome. In fact, allegedly Microsoft said Aero was supposed to allow users to focus more on the content and less on the chrome (presumably because nobody pays attention to glass) ... which I'm sure most users did the exact opposite once they got Windows Vista or 7.

However, like the article suggests, we shouldn't get rid of the notion that the UI is a sort of 3D one, and should still have clear depth cues. Drop shadows under windows for instance, is an "eye candy" effect that actually enhances the presentation. I've also read up on Google's Material Design documentation. While they're also going to a trend of "flatness", a lot of it is anything but. But we should be careful in including elements that aren't necessary.

But then there's a problem that some users would rather keep 96DPI and go with 40" 4K monitors than 27" 4K monitors and not have to bump up the PPI... which they may think reduces spatial resolution. But the funny thing is, in order to enjoy a large monitor without having to turn your head everywhere, which by the way is an ergonomic problem, you have to sit far from the monitor. And then your effective resolution that you perceive is still no better than a 27" monitor of perhaps even lesser resolution. I'd rather take 200PPI and scale everything to look nice and clean on a 27" monitor than a 40" 4K monitor.


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 Post subject: Re: The flatness trend in UIs
PostPosted: Sat Oct 18, 2014 8:07 pm 
Coppermine
Coppermine
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Joined: Wed Mar 25, 2009 4:40 pm
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Very interesting, and thank you for posting. I know from time-to-time you've highlighted articles, topics or general information in the past - I need to be sure to check this sub-forum more often.

While I understand your meaning of "flat," whenever I used the term to describe Win 8, I meant it as a color palette. That is, the choices were dull, matte and uninspiring.

While I guess I haven't really formed an opinion on which I prefer (more 3D vs "flat"), mainly because I never really thought about it, one thing I think developers and UI designers need to consider is the feedback a user will receive when using a particular interface.

For example, when I use Office 365 and I change tabs - aside from the change in menu options - I know it's been successful because I see the outline around the tab:

Image

If you check it out, there is no animation, just a near instantaneous outline on the tab helping me know the tab I just clicked is now the active one.

Compare that to minesweeper:

Image

When you would select one of the squares, you would see an graphical change causing you to "think" you actual "depressed" the square. Coupled with the slight click from the mouse, this 3D animation seems much more interactive to the user.

I'm not trying to say one is better than the other, just pointing out an observation that came to mind when I read your article. If nothing else, you got me thinking. Thanks.


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 Post subject: Re: The flatness trend in UIs
PostPosted: Sat Oct 18, 2014 8:39 pm 
Smithfield
Smithfield

Joined: Sun Jun 18, 2006 7:37 pm
Posts: 5396
Maybe the real wording is a trend towards simpler UI elements, rather than fancy ones. I think what the article is trying to say is the fancy effects we've been seeing help distract us from low resolution screens and that when we blow them up in a higher resolution screen while trying to keep the same spatial resolution, we see them in their ugly forms.

Or rather, we could afford to do it them. Bitmaps are cheaper to render than vectors and the resolutions were smaller.


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 Post subject: Re: The flatness trend in UIs
PostPosted: Sun Oct 19, 2014 6:03 am 
Coppermine
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Joined: Wed Mar 25, 2009 4:40 pm
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You're right, the article was going in one direction and let my mind wander onto a tangential topic. I think the original article made some very valid points, and I think you expounded on the topic by pointing out scaling issues with some of the older UIs.

I guess my thought is: simpler UIs may scale better and look better with higher resolution screens, but we may be unintentionally sacrificing an interactive element in the process.


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