Flat Design: the Art Deco of the Digital Age

It’s the mid 1920s: the world is enamored with the introduction of mass production and mechanized war. Using these technological ‘advances’ as inspiration, designers and artists begin using geometric shapes as a way of representing their modern world. Long, straight lines, and bold imposing shapes all attempt to capture the feeling of modernity, sophistication and grandiosity of the world the live in. It gains popularity quickly, and within a few short years everything from architecture, cars, products, fashion, advertising and fine arts all adopt the design style called Art Deco.

Poster for the cruise liner ‘Normandie’ by Cassandre

Fast-forward to 2006. The first evidence of Flat Design in modern UI begins to take shape in the form of Microsoft’s new design language dubbed Metro. It sparks a trend in the industry, as it allows users to focus on content more quickly by abandoning gratuitous visual effects. Today, the release of iOS8 and Android L this year will mark an important event in the timeline of design history: All major phone and computer operating systems have already or are planning to adopt Flat Design as the primary tool for organizing information. The trend isn’t exclusive to the digital world however; the realms of fashion, interior design, product design, branding, print, and even fine art, all have begun to embrace Flat Design as well.



Both Art Deco and Flat Design evolved as reactions to preceding design styles. The grandiose, bold shapes of Art Deco evolved out of the flowy, ethereal feelings and illustrations of Art Nouveau, much like how the stark, no-nonsense nature of Flat Design emerged from the excessive use of texture and representational objects in Skeuomorphism. The two styles even resemble each other graphically; both using primarily sharp-edged geometry and colors not of the natural world.

They say history repeats itself and in the case of design trends, Flat Design is no exception. What began as a trendy way of organizing information, evolved into global visual style that influences many decisions made by designers, artists, and developers worldwide. Much like how Art Deco changed the world (at least the look of it) by becoming an international design style indicative of the mechanized, sophisticated world of the 1920s and 30s, Flat Design is influencing everything we’re making today. It is a reflection of our current time period, and our place in history. It exists as a visual representation of our understanding of the digital world in which we live.