Why are so many companies changing their logos to flat designs?

One thing to bear in mind is that logos, software interfaces and icons are not the same. But they may share some characteristics.

  1. Logos: Logos were originally developed before electronic displays arrived; they were present in printed stuff and objects mainly . They have been through stages that had to do with the cultural references at the time; they, for instance, appeared mainly on big signs, brochures, books and magazines.
  2. Digital icons and interfaces were introduced around 15/20 years ago. Skeuomorphism  (container+form) or visual metaphors, became the trend at the beginning.

Computer icons were designed following a utilitarian approach, as most users had never been in touch with a computer. These iconic representations were supposed to resemble real objects like clocks, notepads, sand-glasses, magnifying glasses.

The icons below belong to windows 3.11. They may look low-fi (they are, indeed) but at the time designers were under the limitations imposed by screen dimensions, color depth and image resolution.

As time went by, those limitations were challenged by better and bigger screens with “real” colours. When the 1st iPod was launched (2001), icons had gone from 16 x 16 all the way up to 128 x 128, 256 x 256 and even 512 x 512 px. These advancements allowed for 5 times the amount of detail in the same screen size. That , in turn, meant shadows, glows, gradients and layers applied to both, items and their backgrounds.

Designers could now re-create  “photo-quality”  designs and experiment with the results in real time with virtually zero cost (remember, there were no digital screens in the old days)

About the same time, electronic devices like desktop computers, notebooks and smartphones became mainstream products.

The result

Design evolves backwards: 50’s minimalism gets to the digital screen.

Flat Design as a general concept and branded detailed versions, like Microsoft’s metro and google’s material design, kicked skeuomorphism’s details and introduced simplified shapes with pure backgrounds and high contrasted colours. No more tiny details, no more million colours per square inch. Why?

  • Screen sizes vary, so the best, smart way to scale objects is by using basic shapes.
  • Users became more accustomed to touch screens and apps; metaphors were not so badly needed anymore. Millennials (born surrounded by digital screens) and  “mature” users demanded a new look, away from the 2000’s nostalgia.
  • Internet users (mainly through social media) flooded screens with video, animations and photographs; as a consequence, surrounding elements like a save icon or the app’s logo should then remain as non-invasive as possible.
  • Few colours and details meant more battery (and bandwidth) available for real content.
  • Flat style meant less work for designers, who could then focus on covers, memes, and other content-related graphic elements.

Back to logos

Logo design was disrupted as well. Computers arrived at printers’ workshops improving speed, reducing costs and granting designers freedom to experiment via trial/error.

Businesses jumped into social media and online content generation; their logos did as well. Trends like flat design, mostly associated with icon design in the early 2000’s, blended with logo design in more recent years.

Logos now appear in ads that last only a few seconds. They show up in videos that last 15” or 30” (like those in Vine, Instagram and youtube). In order to get fixated faster onto our minds, shapes must be plain as they can.

Logos need to work in big displays, little displays, printed ads, animations, shirts, cards, onto hundreds of backgrounds. When a designer adds elements like borders and shades, those elements remain somehow attached to the specific colors and dimensions chosen; if the designer changes the background, then those element will also require specific changes. But logos are about identity, and they should feel the same no matter the circumstance; that is why minimalism works, because it sticks to the primal visual concept.

This article was originally published on Quora.

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