Flat Design vs Material Design: What Is the Difference Between Them?

10minutes read
material design vs flat design

What is a flat design?

Some people often wonder how many differences these two design styles have. But first, it’s important to mention that each of them is based on the skeuomorphism principle.

Skeuomorphism is a design principle that displays things we are familiar with on the screen the way they look in reality. This style was dominant in the interface design at one time. The design looked differently in the past, and the problem is that such an image of the elements is not very convenient, although it considered being great before.

skeuomorphism example
skeuomorphism example

It’s necessary to remove all the decorative elements in the modern design world and leave only available ones to interact with. It was also needed to reduce element’s volume for faster loading and to focus the user’s eye on the essential and necessary things. Thus, everything superfluous from skeuomorphism was removed, and a new style appeared in the design, which now is known as a flat design.

Flat is a minimalistic approach to the design of objects that emphasizes usability. It began to develop as opposed to the concept of skeuomorphism and opposed the methods of “real” visualization of objects in favor of more simplified and aesthetically simple solutions. Flat design became an absolute favorite after the presentation of Apple iOS. The bet is on user comfort in a minimalist approach to design. The choice fell on more simplified and, at the same time, simple solutions in aesthetics. Users, tired of realistic visualizations, switched to this flat format.

In many ways, flat design is more straightforward because it has no shadows, textures, and gradients. This technique allows you to focus on users’ eyes on icons, colors, and fonts. This is, first of all, the style for mobile devices. In essence, it is very convenient and ideally allows users to easily interact with your product since it doesn’t have unnecessary elements.

At first glance, it might seem that simplification of design elements can make your product dull, faded, and not enjoyable. That’s not true.

“Flat” design solutions attract with their cleanliness and sophistication. Products of a “flat” design seem to be an island of calm, stability, and comprehensibility in the period of an overabundance of information and advertising noise.

So let’s look at some flat distinguishing features in comparison with other designs.

Main flat design principles

No unnecessary effects

The “flat” design got its name because it uses the two-dimensional visualization of objects. It lacks elements aimed at giving depth and volume: such as shadows, reflections, gradients, textures, and glare. Flat design elements convey only the contours of a real object.

The simplicity of the elements

The use of monosyllabic figures and precise contours emphasizes the ease of design. Light simple elements serve as a good imitation of the touch screen, stimulate the desire to interact with the object: press and touch. The simplicity of the elements doesn’t mean the simplicity of their design, only the plain forms, and shapes. They are intuitive to the users and improve usability.

Neat work with fonts

The use of simple elements increases the importance of typography in design. Working with fonts should be done very carefully. The nature of the font should complement but not contradict the general design scheme. Font in “flat” design is a crucial navigation element. The simplicity of the elements doesn’t mean that complex fonts can’t be used. Simply, everything should be sustained in the style of minimalism.

Emphasis on color

Color, as well as font, is an integral part of flat design. Most flat design palettes are based on 2-3 primary colors, but there are more color-rich examples. The flat design uses pure bright colors without unnecessary transitions and gradients.

flat design principles
flat design main principles

The advantages of flat design:

  • Same display on all screens
  • Speeded up the process of understanding what you wanted to convey to users
  • Speeded up working on the site as all redundant elements are removed
  • Fully responsive design as the simplicity of flat design permits you to adapt your site correctly.

Disadvantages of flat design:

  • Flat design may be too limited by simplified color, shadows, and iconography
  • Some applications and sites require more complex visual associations that should guide the user is using your product – this is the main disadvantage of flat design. Also, a frequent complaint is the lack of shadows and bulges, which sometimes doesn’t allow users to understand that the element is clickable.
  • Its widespread use sometimes doesn’t allow you to make your interface unique.
  • Lack of specific fixed rules (unlike design material)

What is material design?

Material design is a graphic language and design style invented by the Google development team to help designers create sites and applications that are accessible, practical, and useful. The concept is based on live documentation publicly available and can be used by any user interested in the idea of material design. Documentation is continuously updated to reflect changes in design and development. That’s why material design remains relevant and is continually evolving as a direction.

Material design has several goals and principles declared by the creators.

Material Design Goals

  1. To create a visual language that will combine the classic principles of good design with the innovations and capabilities of science and modern technology.
  2. Develop a single base system that allows you to create a universal app and website design for different platforms and devices. Mobile principles are fundamental, but touches, voice commands, mouse input, and keyboard are the primary methods of inputting information and interaction that will be taken into account developing designs.

Principles of material design:

  1. Visual signals and all graphic design elements should be based and interconnected with the surrounding reality in the material world.
  2. Graphics, clarity, and focus are the basic theory of design (the use of types, grids, space organization, scale, proportions, color, and images) should determine visual effects and make up the optical basis of the design material.
  3. Each movement or action in material design matters: the movement of objects or other acts performed shouldn’t interfere with the user; on the contrary, they should ensure the convenience and consistency of the operations performed.

In addition to the goals mentioned above and principles, many other guiding factors define the material design. Its documentation is broken down into many specific concepts and methods. For example, Google developed a set of specific rules for creating animations, styles, layouts, components, etc. All these recommendations are based on the fundamental properties of material design.

Color and typography of the material design

Colors in material design have much in common with flat design colors. The material palettes are quite bold and vibrant. Fonts, just like in a flat design, are simple sans-serif.

“Material design is full of bold color schemes, combined with muted tones. This approach takes its roots from modern architecture, road signs, marking tape and sports fields,” this is stated in the Google material design document.

“Highlight bold shadows and highlights. Use unexpected and vibrant colors. ” And the best in the color concept of material design is the use of bright contrast. For convenience, Google provides a complete color palette with swatches available for download. The concepts of color are so simple that the question may arise whether Google thinks that the designers completely forgot the theory of color. Recommendations for choosing and using fonts are also quite basic and straightforward. The default font for all apps is Roboto.

Templates and structure

Material design offers designers to create and use a primary grid and mathematical structure to place elements based on templates. Further, the template is divided into areas; documentation provides several recommendations for each that are aimed at improving the user experience on the site or in the app design.

Basic material design elements

Each element of which the site consists created in the material style is described in detail in the documentation. Starting from how to create it and what it should look like, to its place, method and moment, the user appears on the screen. In general, there is nothing that the creators missed. The list includes 19 necessary structural components. Below we will introduce some of them.

material design elements
material design key features
  • Bottom screen (lower layers of the design)
  • Buttons
  • Cards
  • Dialogues
  • Delimiters
  • Nets
  • Lists
  • Menu and many others

Let’s look at some pros and cons of material design.

Material design advantages:

  • Minimalistic style.
  • Intuitively clear. Material design will be equally easy to understand for both experienced users and beginners.
  • Thanks to the use of the Z-axis (Google’s unique concept), everything looks more realistic.
  • There is a set of manuals that are updated continuously. Therefore, any designer can always turn to them if there are difficulties in the process.

Material design disadvantages:

  • Material design is closely associated with the Google brand. If you want to apply material design principles to your website, everyone will inadvertently associate it with Google. Thus, creating a unique design becomes a real challenge;
  • Not every system allows you to implement the principles of material design fully. Therefore, this narrows the choice of software;
  • Creating this design takes a little more time than a flat one. Although, anyway, any project takes a lot of time.

Would you like to know how to create a functional and attractive app design? Then you can read our article about app design creation.

Having examined separately what a flat design is and what is google material design, let’s still determine the difference between them.

Flat vs material design

In fact, the difference between flat and material design is barely noticeable. And to a person who doesn’t deal with graphic design, both approaches can really seem very similar. Let’s make it clear right now: material design is more a branded product than a spontaneously emerging trend in design that has won widespread recognition. This is what distinguishes it from a flat design. Calling the material “proprietary” means that it has a whole set of clearly defined recommendations and principles that every self-respecting designer follows. It’s obvious why Google introduced its Material Design: there was a need to unify the design so that applications look the same on any of the many Android devices. It’s used only by Google in its purest form. Combining all digital products with a single theme and gamut – as if they were an electronic trading platform was their first goal. They have achieved this. However, not everyone is fond of material design.

flat vs material design
flat vs. material design

The Android operating system is built solely on the principles of material design. IOS users don’t like it because of the color scheme, as iOS is much more colorful and using gradients as a trend.

The most significant difference between flat design and material design is interactivity. The flat style is simple, and all kinds of animations enrich the user experience.

Both styles, flat design and material design have their advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, it’s necessary to consider the individual specifics of the website to choose the best option.

Wrapping Up

It can’t be said that one design has a greater advantage over another, as flat and material designs go side to side. They are both famous, and both are overly realistic. The material design is the flat’s receiver, while the flat design itself has too realistic decisions. Material design added something that flat design always tried to move away from – a bit of skeuomorphism. Although one thing will always be different between these approaches: material design is Google’s patented product. Flat design is the result of a merger of several design practices that strive primarily for overall simplicity.

And finally, nothing prevents you from combining these two approaches to create a truly intuitive and user-friendly product. So, you can always cooperate with Gapsy Studio, and we will be pleased to assist you in creating a functional design that will meet all standards and modern requirements. You can visit our design services page to see the whole list of our services!

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