Back in the 90s the “internet” was an exciting new virtual adventure where website designs were a crazy experiment without professional standards or styles.
One reoccurring practice involved adding a ton of gradients, shadows, and textures to the columns and backgrounds of websites. This design trend attempted to deal with skeuomorphism – a practice in graphics where the user interface imitates the designs of a physical object. The internet was new and unfamiliar, so bringing the site designs into familiar 3D territory with shadows and real-world textures made the sites appealing in the day.
By the 2010s people were very familiar with the world wide web and sites looked far less cluttered. This is when the Flat UI trend started. This was a 180-turn departure from the shadows and textures to simple 2D flat shapes and colors. Apple was a large component of this trend, with app icons becoming flat in the 2010s.
UI trends follow the greater tech trend of full immersion. Omnipresence of technology where the tech infrastructure is dispersed and hidden in our daily lives and activities. Voice assistants like Alexa highlight this immersion trend. The IOT (Internet of Things) revolution will make UI design more varied and considerate of the surrounding environments they exist inside. Smart clothing will display and shift its design to the culture it resides in. Smart home designs will mimic the user’s shifting preferences.
Reports currently state that Apple has given up on its AR (Augmented Reality) glasses project, but a new eye tracking patent suggests it’s still in their plans. Facebook and Google haven’t given up on this venture either which highlights a general trend towards AR. With AR on the rise, skeuomorphism should once more enter the spotlight of design as well.
Merging the digital world with reality is obviously key to make AR usable. Research has been focusing on making sure digital objects track real world objects on screens, so a digital dog filter on Snapchat stays on the human face as it moves around. Developments have also tried to make sure that virtual objects match the lighting and shadow directions of the real world it is placed on. They do this by creating 3D meshes of real world objects so the technologically can calculate realistic lighting and shadows.
All in all though, flat UI is still a practical answer to computer and phone screen design. Information is easier to grasp and read and large screens aren’t overwhelming since the white space in flat UI shifts to match the dimensions of the screen.
However, with social media becoming more omnipresent, along with the internet in general moving towards AR integration, skeuomorphism should be expected to be utilized again in the coming decades.