The True History Of Flat Design

These days whenever you hear about Web design, you will definitely come across the term Flat design. Flat design trend has gained a large amount of popularity within few years. A big reason for this popularity is that large companies as well as organizations have started to change their designing visuals to beautiful flat designs. But, some might think where the flat design actually came from? And what’s the reason behind its popularity on the web?

Design related things have always been keen interest to everyone, and searching about a styles or techniques history can be helpful to you. You can more easily make your decisions about the design visuals when you have a complete knowledge about the particular design.

So in today’s article, we are going to find out what actually is a flat design? What influence does it have from the earlier design periods? And how did the flat design became so much popular in today design world? I know you would love to hear about it. Let’s start then!

What is a Flat Design?

Flat Web Design

For all those who haven’t heard much about the flat design, it is simply a term that is given to style of the design. Elements eliminate any type of stylistic characters that are making them look like odd on the page. In simple words, it means eliminating the style characters like drop shadows, textures and other related designs in order to give the element a 3-dimensional feel.

These days, designers are so much interested in the flat design because it gives a very simple and clean look to design. Also, designers can focus more on the content and message that are most important elements on the site. Eliminating all the design styles that can become a reason for giving an outdated look to the site, designers give their site a ‘future proof’. This way, the design can remain for a much longer time frame. Flat design is really helpful when it comes to making the things more easy and efficient because they remove all the ‘messed up’ things.

It’s not fair to discuss about flat design without discussing what the converse of flat design is. The term that is most often given to the converse of flat design is the ‘rich design’. Rich design as the name suggest, is about adding up design things like drop shadows, bevels, and gradients. All these things help the design elements to look more physical and to which the user can easily navigate through on the website.

However it is very important that you understand, rich design is not Skeuomorphism. Skeuomorphism is a design concept in which the corresponding items resemble with the real world counterparts. It is often used in the design fields such as the User interface and web design. Skeuomorphism is completely different from the flat design because flat design is more about simple graphic styles.

The True History Of Flat Design

Majority of the things you see on the Web or on the digital world nowadays has its beginning from the print and art descent. Although it is very difficult to verify the exact beginning of flat design today but, there are some time frames of design and art through which the flat design is inspired from. Let’s look at those designs!

Swiss Style of Design

Swiss Style

Swiss style is often referred as the International Typographic style. Swiss style of design is the most important era of designing that quickly comes to mind whenever we talk about the history of the flat design. The Swiss design was originated in the Switzerland, and was the most prevailing design throughout the 1940’s and 50’s. It was the key to majority of the development related to graphic designing in the mid 20th century.

Swiss design was mostly focused on using the grids, sans-serif typography and a nice content and layout hierarchy. In mid 40’s, Swiss style of design was mostly involved in the combination of large photographs with a clean and minimal typography. As typography was a main element included in the Swiss design, a very famous typeface known as the Helvetica typeface was also introduced in the Switzerland in the 1957. It was being used on almost everything during that period of time.

Similar to how the flat design these days was around for some time until the Microsoft and Apple made it famous in the design world. Swiss style of design has a same history far back in the 1920’s in Germany; however it was the Switzerland who made this design popular and made the name for themselves in the design world.

Minimalist Design


A major influence of flat Web design can also be traced in the history of Minimalism design. The term minimalism is nowadays used as interchangeable term with flat design; however the word minimalism was famous even before the Web industry was established. Minimalism in the past was used in the architecture, visual art and designing.

Minimalism as we know has a very broad history which covers different mediums. But the medium, through which flat design takes influence, is the visual art expression and design of minimalism. Minimal design is a very famous for eliminating all things in a piece and only leaving what is essential and the most required elements. Statistical shapes, essential elements, bright colors and nice lines control the whole minimal style of design.

Consequently it’s not incorrect to say that combining both Swiss design and Minimal design has a vast influence on the current look of ‘flat design’.

Evolution Of Flat Design Into The Digital World

History has always a way of repeating itself, which is very true when we talk about today’s flat design trend. Like we discussed above, flat design has its tracks all the way back to 1920’s which is largely influenced in the current look of flat design. Plenty of designers have worked with flat designs in order to make their websites look good but, Microsoft and Apple are the one which have made this design so much popular during the last few years.

Microsoft and Metro Design

Flat Windows 8

Microsoft actually started taking interest in flat design even before current metro design was being introduced. In competing with Apple’s very famous iPods, Microsoft introduced a clean and simple Zune media player in the 2006. Zune became a huge hit for the Microsoft as it was purely based on a unique and simple design. The style was focused on large, lowercase typography and the background images. Microsoft also introduced a Zune for the desktop that was following the similar design style, giving a unique experience to the users.

Zune was running on a completely different operating system than majority of the Microsoft’s other systems at the particular time. In October 2010, Microsoft introduced Windows Phone 7 that was designed according to the system of Zune. It was composed largely of grid shapes, clean and simple typography and flat icons. This particular design was soon named as the Metro design by the Microsoft.

This design was so much popular that Microsoft kept on working with the Metro design style and introduced a new operating system known as the Windows 8. Windows 8 had the same grid shapes, sharp edges, bright colors, clean typography and beautiful background images. Microsoft now uses this design in all of their software’s and devices including the Xbox 360.

Apple Leaves Skeuomorphism

iOS 7 Flat Design

As Microsoft was working deeply with the flat design concept, Apple started to move away from the use of Skeuomorphism. It was not too long as Apple completely stopped using it and started working on a more flat design with iOS 7 releases in 2013.

Because Apple had a very strong following group of people that were interested in using the new devices and technologies, the iOS 7 design style made flat design more popular than it was before. The design visuals of Apple regularly influence the design of websites and applications because, majority of the designers find their design to be attractive and modern. Therefore, when Apple started their journey towards a more flat design, Skeuomorphism became an old and outdated. Websites and applications that were using it, quickly moved their designs to a new level.

Responsive Design

We can’t ignore the importance of responsive design when we talk about flat designs. A reason why flat design became a very popular trend within past few years is the growth of responsive design. As we know, more and more devices are connecting with the Web these days with all kinds of screen sizes and browsers. Designers are working hard to make their old design styles that were dependent on textures, drop shadows, and fixed images into smaller and smaller parts which can be easily seen through every screen size and browser. Flat design makes it very easy for the web design to become well-organized.

Without adding any extra design element on the website, a website can load in a much faster time and can be easily resized automatically according to user’s browser. This also has much to do with our screens that are becoming more and more high definition and require the image to be crisp and clean. It is easy for the screens to display to crisp boxes and clean typography than trying to do various changes in order to make the image according to the screen size.

The Flat Design And Its Future

The truth is no one knows what will happen tomorrow but, we can safely say that flat design will continue to grow until it is being replaced with something that is more unique and exciting for the users. We have seen above that every design no matter how good has eventually been taken down by another high quality design so we can hope the same with flat design.

However there are some noticeable imperfections in the flat design that we see today such as removing the visual clues that are required to verify whether something can be clicked on not. But with designers experimenting, testing, and learning new techniques, flat design will surely be replaced with a new styles with more unique features than flat design.

One possible clue that we can think of in the future for the flat design is the current working of Google on the mobile apps. Google apps are showing a bit of resemblance with the flat designs however it doesn’t seems to be eliminating the elements like the drop shadows. Also, it is still using the gradients in a subtle way. Google is working hard to keep the design as flat and rich as possible and mixing both is such a way that it looks clean and simple. With Google being well known for introducing new things, who knows we might see something from them.


Flat deign is the most popular trend that internet world has seen during the past few years. Designers have questioned frequently about whether it will stay for a long time or will it fade away like all the other designs. But regardless of all these questions, designers have been practising the use of flat design in their websites for a long time now. Flat design is used to create awesome and beautiful looking interfaces however it may not be suitable for all the design projects because everyone has their own purposes. So, be aware about what you are trying to communicate with your users before taking any step.

Although the flat design looks to be new and very exciting with a fast growing pace but, we can now say that it is nothing new in the design history. With a great influence form the Swiss design as well as Minimal design, flat design just seems like a rebirth of its print origins. I hope you find the article useful. Please share it with others, and if you have anything to share with us, feel free to comment in the below section.


  • Ganesh

    These are amazing. This will help me so much in choosing the best design .

  • Karl Merkli

    You mention that Microsoft and Apple made flat famous, but you don’t mention Google. Why? Apple’s iOS isn’t even flat.

  • Henk

    “Zune became a huge hit for the Microsoft as it was purely based on a unique and simple design”

    There are a lot of flaws in your post. But this one made me laugh ;)

  • FlatIsBoring

    Well written article, but flat design is for designers not users.

    Users have no choice in the matter and it would likely surprise many to find out how little it is liked. The backlash against IOS7 is still present. Windows 8 is only growing in adoption because it is the only way to buy a new PC.

    For many the answer to the question “what is flat design” can be summed up with one word: Ugly.

  • Harry

    The typography on this site is abysmal. A narrow, gray, thin font for reading? Come on.

    • Taimur Asghar

      Fixing it right now. Thanks.