Flat Design-FF

A ‘Flat Design’ Approach to Marketing: 3 Key Takeaways

PHOTO CREDIT: LorenzoVerzini.com

This piece was originally published on The Creative Strategist

Logo designers seem to be especially busy lately. With big brands like Google, Bing and Yahoo! unveiling redesigns in quick succession, designers are sparking a bevy of discussion on the role of these very visible brand transformations.

First, the logo refreshes publicly signal experiential changes to come for the three internet giants, with each introducing improvements to user experience, functionality and more.

Secondly, logo changes reflect new strategic approaches from senior leadership. In the case with Yahoo!, the need to revitalize the brand and put greater emphasis on its “modern and fresh” future; with Bing, the logo refresh in ‘Microsoft yellow’ indicates a bold move toward greater differentiation, setting it in stark contrast to the pervasiveness of ‘internet blue’; and in the case with Google, the logo shift is part of a move to draw attention to, and be consistent with, uniting its various apps into a more seamless experience in the navigation bar.

Beyond the strategic value of each refresh, these logo transformations tell a third story–that of the growing impact of flat design.

So what is flat design, and why is it suddenly popping up everywhere?

While not entirely new, with the New York Times reporting on the trend in April and in the fall of last year, the recent logo announcements are drawing more eyes to the flattening that’s becoming everywhere visible. According to Smashing Magazine, the trend can be summarized as a shift from “textured, beveled, and drop-shadowed to a desire for flat colors and simple typography.” And Creative Bloq describes it as “a minimalistic design approach that emphasizes usability. It features clean, open space, crisp edges, bright colours and two-dimensional/flat illustrations.”

Importantly, the flat logo design trend highlights a shift away from mere typography, to a more holistic emphasis on user interface design. And this shift has implications marketers should consider as well.

Below are a few points driving the flat design trend (from Smashing Magazine), and my recommendations for how marketers can respond in kind:

Takeaway #1: Streamline, streamline, streamline
Information Overload: Flat design is an effort to reduce clutter in the user interface. Marketers are certainly no strangers to clutter, and are largely responsible for flooding our daily lives, on and offline, with noise.

This means taking a fresh eye to your broad user experience–both digital and non-digital.

  • How can you reduce the number of tactics you’re using in market to only the strongest performers?
  • How many separate campaigns are you running that target the same end-user, and how can you collapse those efforts together into a single, cohesive experience?
  • How can your messages, value proposition, and language be simplified for clarity and brevity?

Takeaway #2: Have a Singular Focus
Feature glut: Gone are the days of piling on features. “Focused micro-apps favor simplicity over feature set. [And] simpler apps mean simpler interfaces.” While streamlining is about not overloading the end-user, having a singular focus is about having a stronger strategy for differentiation and recall.

  • Identify the single, stand-out feature, or single statement, that will be the focus of all communication and promotion.
  • Don’t follow the temptation to list as many positive attributes of the product as possible, which results in distraction rather than differentiation.
  • Instead, make the non-intuitive choice to have a more narrow focus (on a core audience and core attribute) if you want to achieve broader results.

Takeaway #3: Plan for Utility, not for Platforms
Looking beyond the interface: Flat design is about reducing the distraction of the interface itself in order to enable the action or highlight the content the user is trying to access in the first place. It also enables compatibility across platforms and interfaces, which ensures a more consistent, uninterrupted experience.

Marketers can apply this concept by dedicating creative energy first on how best to provide utility to customers and enable easy access to products and services, and getting less hung up on the interface and platform decisions at the start of a project. In other words, ‘flat design marketers’ should think: “form follows function,” not “form over function.”

  • How can you remove barriers between customers and the products, services and customer support they need?
  • What can you offer that simplifies the customer experience and provides a faster way of achieving their desired outcome?
  • How consistent is your user experience–visually, digitally and verbally–across customer touchpoints?

Do you agree with these conclusions? What are some other takeaways marketers can extract from the flat design movement? Do you think it will last? Or is it sure to be short-lived? Let me know @TheRealCherylM on Twitter.