UI design trends: What comes after flat icons? Brutalism?

Ever since Google changed its logo back in 2015, flat design has been the standard for UI design. But people have been wondering, what comes afterwards?

Because at some point it has to change, right? After all, even though flat design was necessary to make UI compatible with smartphones and tablets, it is still a trend, and those come and go rather quickly (same thing happens with personalised T-shirts).

The trend cycle goes something like this: The innovators are the first to come up with the new thing, then come the early adopters, the early majority, the late majority and then the laggards. In the case of the iPhone, the innovators would be those who stood in line to buy the first iPhone and the laggards are the ones who still hold to their BlackBerry till this day.

The trend journey is a cycle that’s always in motion. By the time the early majority is adopting the new trend (goes mainstream), the innovators are already complaining about how ‘cool’ such and such thing used to be before everybody owned it.

We all have that friend who likes to listen to obscure bands and then when they become popular, they’re not as cool anymore. Their ‘earlier’ stuff was way better.

But we still haven’t answered, what comes after flat UI design? To be honest, nobody knows for sure but here are a few trends that are starting to take off.

Minimalism

Wait — isn’t flat design already minimalistic? Yes, but it can always be more minimal. Up to the point where we could get rid of colour entirely to just leave monochromatic lines.

Common language

The Internet has been around for a while now. Thanks to that, we don’t need to explain anymore what the ‘X’ at the top left corner stands for. Same thing goes for the hamburger menu — the three lines that are usually located at the top right corner — these symbols have become standard in UI design and therefore need no explanation. This means they occupy a lot less space
Thanks to these symbols and functions becoming ‘native,’ designers have a lot more liberty to create clean and simple designs.

Images as protagonists

Thanks to a fast internet and powerful machines, we can now download high-quality images and videos in record time. Much of today’s UI design evolves around images. These are the protagonists of the composition, everything else is secondary.

Note: Photoshop or Illustrator? Ever wondered which one is better for designing T-shirts? Check it out here.

Image or video as background
It is normal nowadays to see the background of a website be a single video or image with the menu and have the other elements be minimal or sometimes even invisible until the user takes some sort of action.

A good example is the website of Lana Del Rey. The background always features the latest music video of the singer.

 

Lana Del Rey, Website, UI Design Trends

 

Cards
A new way of presenting images is by the use of ‘cards.’ These are basically just images that are layered on top of each other to create the layout. Netflix is probably the best example of a cards layout that there is right now.

 

netflix, ui design trends

 

Split-Screen design
When I studied design, I was told that you should always try to avoid dividing a layout in half because then there wouldn’t be a hierarchy and in consequence, the eye wouldn’t know where to look at. This doesn’t seem to stop web designers, though (or maybe I just had a bad teacher).

A good example would be the website of EngineThemes. This is a company that develops WordPress themes for other businesses and their homepage shows what they’re capable of.

 

Engine Themes, UI Design trends

 

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Isometric

A trend that is well underway is ‘isometric’. Right now, is not so much about creating hyper-realistic objects but using flat layers to give an icon some depth. They take longer to make than flat icons but not as long as a ‘realistic’ design.

If you want to download these icons, you can do so here.

 

Isometric Icons, UI Design Trends

 

Material

Take a second to look at the Google Chrome logo and then come back. What did you see? At a first glance it looks like another example of flat design but if you look at it carefully, you’ll realise it’s got a couple of strategically placed shadows that give the logo some depth.

Material design is a design language developed by Google that allows for more freedom with layouts, transitions and uses light and shadows to create depth. Material was developed in 2014 by Google with the premise being that the virtual layout doesn’t provide a clear way to know when elements begin and end. Light and shadows help with this. At the moment, all of Google’s platforms use this design language and they’ve made it accessible to third party members to create products that are compatible with Google.

 

Material Design, UI Design Trends

 

Brutalism

In response to the minimalism that seems to have taken over the online world. A group of designers have taken the opposite direction. These websites are hard on the eyes and sometimes even not very intuitive to navigate. They can even be inspired by nostalgia felt for the first websites of the 90’s. No CSS, no fancy images or videos and no optimisation for smartphones.

The term ‘brutalism’ was originally coined in the 50s to identify a new trend in architecture where buildings were made out of concrete and left ‘unfinished.’ The Trellick Tower in London is an example of brutalist architecture.

Check out other trends in design, Photographic Interventions.

Now the term has been resurrected to describe this new trend in web design. Back in the early days of the Internet, websites were brutal because they had to be. Nowadays designers choose for them to look this way. The website dongyounglee.com is a good example of a brutalist website.

 

dongyounglee, UI design trends

Example of brutalism.

 

If you’re still wondering what brutalist websites look like, take a look at this article by The Verge that imagines how your smartphone would look like with brutalist designs.

Final Words

The future, as many have already stated before me, is hard to predict. At the moment the current trends seem to lead forward to minimalism but at the same time, there’s a strong reaction to it.

Eventually, sooner or later, it will all steer away from flat and clean layouts towards something more complex. Why? Because like we mentioned at the beginning of this post, innovators already got tired of the squeaky clean design and have started going for something more ‘rustic’ — it is only a matter of time before the rest catch up.

What do you think? What’s the next step in UI design? Let us know in the comments below. In the meantime, keep reading the Printsome blog for more awesome content.


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