So, flat is the new Rich Corinthian Leather of interface design.
Gone like the coffee cups in Scott Forstall’s office are the bevels, shadows, and textures of our recent nostalgia-fuelled skeuomorphic design tastes.
All hail glorious, silk-screeny rectangles of pure colour.
But it’s not just because we’re fed up with all the realism doodads. Daring Fireball writer John Gruber suggests retina displays are the catalyst for our fresh new feeling.
The whole default iOS look — the textures, the shadows, the subtle (and sometimes unsubtle) 3D effects — is optimized for non-retina displays. It’s makeup to cover up the fact that 163 pixels per inch, though better than anything we had before the original iPhone, is still a crude resolution overall. Retina displays are no longer limited in such ways, and need no phony effects to create interfaces that are beautiful.
The trend away from skeuomorphic special effects in UI design is the beginning of the retina-resolution design era. Our designs no longer need to accommodate for crude pixels. Glossy/glassy surfaces, heavy-handed transparency, glaring drop shadows, embossed text, textured material surfaces — these hallmarks of modern UI graphic design style are (almost) never used in good print graphic design. They’re unnecessary in print, and, the higher the quality of the output and more heavy-handed the effect, the sillier such techniques look. They’re the aesthetic equivalent of screen-optimized typefaces like Lucida Grande and Verdana. They work on sub-retina displays because sub-retina displays are so crude. On retina displays, as with high quality print output, these techniques are revealed for what they truly are: an assortment of parlor tricks that fool our eyes into thinking we see something that looks good on a display that is technically incapable of rendering graphic design that truly looks good.
Technology pushes visual style forwards again—and just in time. I upgraded my Mac OS a week or two ago and almost fell out of my chair when finally confronted in person with the dreaded beige iCal. Shudder.
My designery friend Wil Alambre sent me this funny (or is it sad?) review of Windows 8, the “metro”-styled flatest thing out there. Don’t let its usability problems scare you away from a skinny rectangular diet. It tastes so good.