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In a current attempt at designing a mobile app using a "flat" design à la Windows Modern UI, I noticed that some aspects of the application feel weird to the average user.

The main aspects here being the buttons that do not offer the feedback people are used to on platform other that Windows Phone.

I'm aware of this question about flat buttons but I'm looking for a more mobile experience.

Is it possible to use a totally flat design where it does not look native? Do anybody have such experience?

Edit:

Thanks for the comments! To make this question more clear, what I'm trying to figure out is if flat design (or more specifically the different kind of affordance that comes with it, compared to the skeuomorphism users are used to) is a problem to most mobile users.

My little testing experience on this subject tells me that WP users won't be troubled as much as iPhone users will do. My question was more general but let's reduce it to buttons as it's the more representative case.

To sum my questions up:

  • Do anybody have some experience with (or maybe pointers to studies about) the use of unusual affordance that comes with flat buttons?
  • What pitfalls will usually comes with such buttons?
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I don't have a specific answer for you, so I'll leave a comment to say that while it's possible, I'm not sure it is a good idea. A totally flat design means that the typical skeuomorphic affordance of depth that you typically see with buttons will have to be supplied by another means. That means you would have to come up with another affordance that will clearly indicate the element's function (hence your question). I would be interested in the answer to that, but my hunch is that there isn't a good one out there. –  Charles Wesley Dec 18 '12 at 22:58
    
Thanks @Charles for your comment, that's exactly what I'm trying to find out. –  Yannick Blondeau Dec 18 '12 at 23:18
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I'm not sure I understand. Doesn't Windows Phone demonstrate that you can? If you're asking about using Metro or similar on platforms that don't use a flat aesthetic, that question was asked before. –  Kit Grose Dec 19 '12 at 1:00
    
Not an answer as well but I would look at it differently. Yes, without buttons you have to indicate to the user that there is an alternative. Yet, a flat design can work but the user would have to be educated as to it's function. The Clear app as an example uses no buttons in the typical sense. Yet still provides a ton of functionality. Build it and then test it with a small group. Get their feedback. UX / UI has to push a little in order to advance forward. Users have to get nudged a little in order to adopt to something new. Good Luck and keep thinking forward. –  Tony Dec 19 '12 at 14:20
    
What is your real question? Obviously it can be used for design--it has been, and will continue to be. Are you asking whether it is superior? What pitfalls such designs engender? –  Alex Feinman Dec 19 '12 at 14:41
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2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Jakob Nielsen has recently criticized Windows 8's usability, among the problems he found was that buttons and tabs didn't appear clickable because they were flat. That's a strong argument to not use this flat style on anything other than Windows 8/Windows phone, where it is the native style, and whose users might have become accustomed to it.

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The answer to your question is: Yes, you can use a totally flat design in a mobile app.

Flat UI is a perfect solution for retina screens and increased app sizes. The effects can be created in code, keeping the size of apps down, as well as, making it easier to upscale the app for those higher res screens. It’s also less iPhone-y, which will make the leap to an Android or Window Phone a less painful redesign.

Apps with a flat design are becoming more common and the skeuomorphic style will start to look dated in time. Look at using gestures and animation rather than thinking a skeuomorphic design is required.

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Can you substantiate this a bit more? I'm fairly sure that removing affordances is not a smart idea for interfaces, which is what the flat style advocates. I know it's fashionable to hate on skeuomorphism, but that doesn't mean that buttons shouldn't look like buttons. –  dhmholley Dec 19 '12 at 11:25
    
I agree with @dhmholley about the fact that removing affordances is not good and I'm not sure to get your point about the app size. Is it about the app's files weight? –  Yannick Blondeau Dec 19 '12 at 15:15
    
Skeuomorphism has it's place... I'm saying that it's possible to create affordances within a flat design. There are plenty of apps which successfully have implemented a flat design. Have a read of this discussion on "The Flat Design Aesthetic" and if you want to see some examples of flat UI design check out this Pinterest board. @yannick Yes, flat designs are generally faster as the file weight is lighter. –  JustinRob Dec 19 '12 at 23:39
    
Thanks for the clarifications and the links! –  Yannick Blondeau Dec 20 '12 at 6:00
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