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Skeuomorphism, Flat Design, and the Rise of Type Design

Michael is an experienced UI/UX designer whose background in marketing and data analysis helps him make well-informed design decisions.
Read the Spanishes version of this article translated by Yesica Danderfer

Sci-fi books, movies, and shows often accurately predict the future. From debit cards to video chat to landing on the moon—even the UI designs seen in Star Trek and the like are pretty on-trend.

Moving away from skeuomorphic design toward material design

UIs of the future are always flat and feature mostly typography and strokes/lines.

It seems like sci-fi accurately predicted the flat design movement in UI, but sci-fi shows took their designs a step further, relying mostly on typography and lines.

Form follows function, and it seems like we’re always moving towards cutting more clutter and focusing on what matters most: solving a user’s problem and providing a clear offering.

We started with skeuomorphic design then went to flat design, and now I think we should challenge ourselves to design interfaces like the ones we’ve admired in sci-fi with just type and little to nothing else. This new style can be called type design.

We need a better solution for making designs that are faster to iterate but still look beautiful. Our flat designs are not so flat anymore—they take forever to work on, maintain, and change. I’m not saying we should ditch intricate designs entirely; I’m just saying we need a second option.

The Possibility and Promise of Type Design

Here is why we can make type designs possible today:

  1. Typography has advanced so much that you have thousands of fonts and many different ways to distinguish your designs from the rest with great typography.

  2. There are incredible stock image sites today. You have sites like unsplash providing free images and various sites where you can buy original pics for pretty cheap.

Just as flat design seemed too simplistic at first (compared to skeuomorphic design) and some people thought it might not work, this might feel the same way. But I think if we all put our minds together, we can push this style of design pretty far and make awesome designs with just type, lines, and images.

Instead of skeuomorphism using flat material design
Slack’s home page redesign in 20 minutes of work. You could test your idea in less than an hour in a user test to see if your messaging works well. Iterating is even faster.

If you bring this level of simplicity to your designs, you will:

  • Discover if your product makes sense right off the bat, because you won’t be able to use lorem ipsum as a crutch anymore.

  • Be able to test your landing page or product within hours of working on the design.

  • Be able to change things around very easily. Adding features, iterating, etc. will take minutes, not weeks.

  • Make your app run a lot faster.

  • Uncover your MVP way faster, since you’ll be able to change the messaging on the fly.

The Rules of Type Design

Here are my proposed rules for type design:

  1. You can use lines or strokes.

  2. You can use icons.

  3. You can use typography.

  4. You can change the color of the background.

  5. You can use images.

flat design and material design
Lufthansa home page type design concept by Toptal designer Wojciech Dobry, made within 2 hours. Different typography was used to set up priorities and the whole experience, and lines were used to separate main sections.

That’s it. No boxes, colorful buttons, waves, intricate shapes, etc. Basically no Dribbble-type designs.

flat design

I bet that many designers will be able to make type design pieces that look just as beautiful as any Dribbble design, just cleaner and with a minimal UI.

• • •

Further reading on the Toptal Design Blog: