Home / Journal / Being Ahead of the Curve

Being Ahead of the Curve

2nd Apr 2014 Posted under: My work

Recently I noticed something, an advert that made me chuckle. The advert is for a news app. It made me chuckle because it's not far from a news app I designed four years ago (keep up!). The main differences and advancements coming from hardware progression or maturity within the app market. After all, iPads were almost brand new four years ago and I was pushing a whole new concept that hadn't been tried at that point. The basic functionality was the same – a digital newspaper. New editions every week; including interactive content such as videos, crosswords and puzzles. In fact, the only drastic difference being that content for the app I designed was pulled from a blog, so there needed to be added focus on sharing and user activity. Also we made better use of the multi-touch functionality.

News app appearance and functionality

Flat Design has been batted around a terrible amount over the past few years. People acting as if it's something new, trying to contribute and add awful things to what is essentially a digital realisation of an old movement. People seem to think Flat, or Metro, design has strong links with Minimalism. That couldn't be further from the truth. To understand that, you need to understand exactly what Minimalism is. Lets look at a dictionary definition:

"Deliberate lack of decoration or adornment in style or design"

Therefore keylines, big photos and content flying around are exactly not what this is referring to. Flat design is indeed minimal – reduced down to basics – but it is in no way Minimalism; reduced down past the point of functionality. To call iOS7 or Windows 8 Minimalism represents sheer ignorance and arrogance to the entire Minimalist movement. They have been reduced a lot compared to what we were used to but my phone still has four additional tactile buttons, still has a lock screen, a notification centre, a home screen, text labels, cameras. Anyone who has studied design beyond the web will know this is not Minimalism. Anyone with experience working in Print will know this as well. That's because Flat Design is a digital realisation of Print techniques. Thanks to high density (retina) displays and full colour across all devices we can achieve the same effects as with a high DPI Print. Super sharp edges, refined typography and clever use of screen real-estate. This is far more a nod toward Swiss International style or Modernism.

Category and Article Overview

It's a tremendous relief that companies are finally focusing on content delivery, rather than trying to impress and amaze users with glitzy graphics that detract from the reading experience. It frustrates me when people try and pocket this as a trend like 'metro' or 'flat' design. It wasn't a trend when I was doing it in 2010 and it isn't a trend now. Anyone who has worked in print or understands design will know that all great design is simple and favours function over form. It's what words like utilitarian and practical were invented for. If anything this 'trend' is a realisation and appreciation for the German Bauhaus movement, now around a century old. When you start cluttering it with pointless longshadows or using wire icons for the sake of it, is when it becomes a trend.

My inspiration for the news app was quite straightforward. I chose a printed news magazine, took what I liked about it, then recreated it for the purposes of an app. If I were to design a similar app again, I would probably do the same thing – only with the added knowledge of how modern apps can function; with columned navigation features, like the app from the advert. Generally take advantage of retina display and peoples' familiarity with digital content. The design did come with landscape but it wasn't so different from the portrait view.

Yes, there was even a night mode!

To conclude; all I'm trying to enforce is an outside-the-box way of thinking. Everyone says it but few people actually do it. People might judge you for following a 'trend' that is dead or doesn't exist but you'll never know if you don't try. Don't be afraid to recreate something that's been done elsewhere but always look at what you can do differently and the advantages of your medium. What senses you can engage and how far you can push this to create something iconic and unique. Therefore, staying ahead of the curve is as simple as ignoring trends and fads. Stick to tried and tested methods of what you know – focusing the delivery of content and how it engages users, rather than how it looks or adding bulk interface. Your work wont look dated after a few years if you stick to this method.