Flat it is

We’ve come a long way from design that was meant to look three dimensional and life-like on the computer.

I remember many workshops where we’d try to make buttons for programs and web pages look three dimensional.  It was a great way to show a feature of Photoshop or Hyperstudio.  You’d draw a drop shadow that was black or kind of grey-ish.  You could get fancy with design and not use straight edges but instead make a cloudy type of effect.  Then, you’d design the button with the text like “Click me” and move it over top of the drop shadown – pixel here, pixel there – until you got it perfect.  Then, you’d select both of the objects and lock them together so that they became one and then you just moved it into place.

It was a tedious process, particularly if you had a lot of them.  But, the results were quite impressive and real artists could tweak them here and there to make them look great.

A skill for a lifetime.

Or until the philosophy of design changes.  It just keeps designers busy again.  First (at least as far as I could guess, correct me if I’m wrong), there was Metro and now we’re talking about Flat and Material Design.  Microsoft has embraced the concept in Windows 10 and it looks great.  Then, I read this article this morning that got me really thinking.  “Google rolling out Material Design web-wide“.  This leads to an interesting read from the Google Design blog about Resizer.  As my friend Dave was fond of saying, “Doug, there’s a workshop in there”.

I thought that I probably should do some background reading just to know exactly what the difference between Flat and Material Design is.  A fairly involved description is available here, “Flat Design vs. Material Design: How Are They Different?“.  I’ll be honest; I’ve read the article quite a few times and continue to not be totally comfortable enough to say that I know the difference well enough to hold a conversation with someone that does.  It is good reading and gives the sort of insight that I think is important if you’re going to be designing anything that looks modern.  I shed a tear when the article used the word “retro” to talk about the good ol’ days.

Back to Windows 10 and its flat look.  I like it and, after reading the article, understand more about the principles of rendering for speed.  Certainly, we depart from real world imaging when we’re working from a palette of only 256 colours.

Then, I realized that I’d already taken that step with my instance here of Ubuntu.  While we’re all patiently waiting for the release of 16.04, I wonder if the user experience will embrace the Flat or Material.  Or, as is nice in the world of Ubuntu, you can take control of things.  Out of the box, there are four themes – Adwaita, Ambience, Radiance, and High Contrast.  I typically used Ambience.  I like how the menu icons stand out with the dark background.  However, I had read this article “How to Add a Splash of Color to Ubuntu’s Default Look“.

And I did.

The visual effects are subtle, to be sure.  I tried many of the colours that came as themes.  I thought I would immediately be a green convert.  I guess that I’ve just been used to orange for so long.  l was quickly back to orange.

But, it is nice to change things up every now and again for a different look.

Buttons change from the 3D rounded that are the default to the squared off flat looking.  The whole feel just seems a little more modern.  It doesn’t apply to everything; some developers must have hard coded the 3D effects so that they can’t be changed.

Installation is done with the things that draw the snide comments from those who insist on simply pointing and clicking everything.  It’s not available through the Ubuntu Software Centre so you do have to open a terminal, connect a PPA and then use a tool like the Unity Tweak Tool to apply the settings.  But, if you’re curious enough to change a theme, you’re a master of that already.  I always use moments like this to see what else I can tweak with the tool.  It’s not something I do daily so it’s always fun to give it a try.

I’ve tried a lot of things and discarded a lot of things either because I tire of them or they don’t deliver.  This delivers and I like the effect.

For the moment, this is a keeper for me.

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