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Less Aesthetic, More Design

Talk about “Flat Design” has exploded over the last two or three weeks. It’s almost become as much of a meme as Skeuomorphism became a few months ago. There’s a critical piece of this discussion missing – that’s got to stop.

“Flat” and “Skeuomorphic” aesthetic, not design.

Aesthetic (how something looks) properties do not wholly describe the overall design of a thing. “Design” as a descriptor represents the process, intentions, and execution of an idea, and aesthetics makes up a very small part of that. To distill our discourse on design down to the aesthetic choices is seriously disturbing – it discredits the most important considerations we as designers must make in order to create good design.

It’s not your fault

Aesthetic fads are easy to talk about, and fun to brag about. The entire function of sites like Dribbble are to ogle pretty things made by other designers. Writing inflammatory blog posts about Skeuomorphismgenerates lots of banter on Hacker News, and drives tons of traffic. Products redesign to fit in, also generating loads of designery buzz.

Symptoms of a bigger problem

Why is there such an outcry against Skeuomorphism? The main argument is that it gets in the way of usability. Flat aesthetic is lauded for being more honest, simple, and easy to understand. It removes the extra ‘stuff.’ But Flat is just as guilty – just look at the comments about Dropbox’s new iOS app: > “unfathomable icons thrown all over the place.”

“It’s a bit weird. It doesn’t indicate “Edit” or Change or whatever to me visually. I’d no idea what it did until I tried it.”

These pain points go far beyond aesthetic – down to the levels of user experience and usability. Skeuomorphism and Flat are disparate visual solutions, yes, but neither is a solution to the massive usability problem. They don’t even scratch the surface.

Useful Design

I’ve got a new metric we should use to evaluate our work. It’s not a new idea, but it happens to be the most practical metric by which to evaluate any product you’ll ever make, and the only one that reallymatters to your customers:

Design is a form of problem solving. Never forget that.