Over the past several weeks, more than a few readers have shared articles with me that might be considered to be counter-criticism. In the interest of encouraging an open and spirited debate, readers might find it useful to engage with the range of counter-criticism that has been published, specifically around my recently completed multi-part series, Fall of the Designer. This will be similar in nature to my last roundup following the completion of the Critical Sharks Series.
The following is a roundup of critical feedback with relevant excerpts. After the contrasting feedback, I am including some supportive responses that the article received. I leave it to you, the reader, to be the judge.
In case you didn't get a chance to listen, I was interviewed by the On the Grid podcast about the Fall of the Designer series. You can check that out here.
Flat design challenges me. It makes me focus on the overall experience and not try to hide it in things that are temporary. While other sites were glazed in design makeup I was wondering how I could make the reading experience better…Let’s take a step back and focus on other aspects of the experience because as we all know looks aren’t everything.
If your skillset and ability to provide a cohesive experience solely rests on your ability to craft a wonderful 3D icon then you have missed the point of being a designer. If you are worried that flat design has taken away your ability to stand out from the crowd or make money, then you either have forgotten the value you bring to the table or never knew what your value was in the first place.
Maybe Eli Schiff is a bitter visual designer who lost his job because he only did icons, heh heh heh.
Maybe this guy is like an old man sitting in a rocking chair smoking a pipe and talking about 'kids these days.'
It all seems like a temper tantrum argument. If you really think this shift in the industry is gonna eliminate your job, you must not value what you're contributing very much because that's just silly.
I think what we’re seeing, as Schiff has pointed out is not so much flat design as lazy, flat design.
Via very selective choices, Schiff offers a number of examples where flatness gives everything a generic, consistent look. Well, yes, because it's nice to have a cohesive experience when you unlock and use your device…I look at my home screen today and it's nothing like the “homogenous” example Schiff offers as an example in his post, instead mine is bursting with colorful, clean, and often downright bad-ass icons…it seems to me that Schiff's “everything looks the same” premise is immediately debunked by the UI's of other apps.
At best, there's a baffling, written-by-a-robot quality to Schiff's posts. At worst, a kind of screwball Ayn Rand undergraduate troll quality that I find unsettling.
Besides the fact that I really, really don’t agree with the connotation that “flat” design is plain worse than “skeuomorphic” design, I feel like the article makes an unfair point. It equates the work of app/product/interaction designers simply to visual design, in the sense that it only aims to be fashionable.
Instead of fashionable paint jobs, interaction designers create systems. The interface itself is solely a manifestation of said system. As such the quality of the work should never be judged on purely aesthetic merits. The fact that most visual design nowadays looks (and behaves) very similar stems from the systems behind it. Our whole technological ecosystem is homogenous.
Flat design is a natural evolution driven by our technological advancement, not a last-ditch effort of mediocre designers to validate their skills
We should know better, at this point, than to be baited by titles as hyperbolic as this one, whether to hand over anything as valuable as our attention, at least, or at most, our credence…Perhaps a less definitive title for this series would have been in order. Like, I dunno, “I Don’t Know What’s Happening But Am Going to Work Through It Until I Figure Something Out.” That certainly would have offended fewer designers.
Eli, if you’re out there, I get it. Things are scary right now. But you know what? I think it’s going to be OK. And even when it’s not, life is better when you choose to believe that it’s going to be OK.
Users don’t want to look at the detail, they want to use the detail. When more and more of our lives are taken up with software interaction, it is no surprise the UI features are consistently being scaled back in oppressiveness, whilst the content has come to the forefront.
Yes, there will be non designers who are taking shortcuts with the affordance of free UI kits and flat colour palettes and self building websites, but their work will still be spotted as amateur when compared to the design experts. To say users wont be able to tell the difference is a dangerous underestimation.
Just because you can’t post your shit on Dribbble and get your ass licked, it doesn’t mean that the “fall of the designer” is upon us.— Dan Gough (@dandgough) May 6, 2015
@intercom This guy has no idea what he is talking about.— Jerre Baumeister (@JerreBM) May 8, 2015
"As websites became responsive, they became a mess of flat colors." http://t.co/otfvU1E8u0 The hell did I just read?— Brad Frost (@brad_frost) April 22, 2015
@jongold Its the classic knee jerk reaction of people who don't understand 'design' and just over-style everything without thought.— Matthew Cane (@matticane) April 7, 2015
@intercom sad to see you promoting this.— Josh Brewer (@jbrewer) May 8, 2015
Mostly wrong, and a lot of hand wringing, but an interesting read. → http://t.co/gKsyKY6KI8— Allan Grinshtein (@Allan) April 14, 2015
What we’re seeing is every site looks the same. And I blame lack of tools, coupled with an obsessive mantra about how only hand coding web sites is real website building and you’re dumb if you can’t learn HTML in a week…hand coding a web page via HTML and CSS lets you express fully the semantics of the information within, or at least that’s the utopian vision, but why does visual expressiveness have to suffer?
Schiff delivers a nearly epic inventory of all the ways that designers and design tool makers have lately deemed aesthetics to be an unworthy pursuit for designers, and how these are reflective of a “larger movement that expects interface design to come a distant second to development.” The trend is to push the role of the designer closer and closer to the role of developer, and extinguish the role of the visual designer, effectively negating the aspect of design concerned with the subjective and the unquantifiable.
As we have diminished the role of aesthetics in our working definition of design, we have naturally created an environment in which only one kind of aesthetic is desirable. This is the bigger-picture ramification of the past decade’s emphasis on coding as the most effective and most authentic means of executing design: we’re constraining our modes of expression at a time when we should be expanding them.
Great software I think is software that is easy to use. This ease of use is directly related to what the user wants to get done, her concept of what that is, how well she can translate that concept in using the software, and how well that concept is reflected back to her.
This mental model I think is the heart of software, and the heart of user interfaces.
Schiff’s section concerning the sound effects of Tweetbot, previously reinforcing the Twitter robot conceit of the iOS 6-and-before app, is particularly on point, as the current design retains the robotic sound design, connecting to the memories of old Tweetbot while being strangely inexplicable (aside from one link, the name) to a new user.
A prototype is an abstraction — a tool for thought, exploration and communication. Some prototypes explain an idea so that it can be discussed with other people. Others help the designer think about the purpose and features of a product. Low fidelity prototypes can be used to gather feedback about big picture ideas, while high fidelity ones generate feedback about the specifics of function and style.
A good designer understands that prototyping serves many purposes, and that prototypes can play different roles. They will choose the right tool for the required form, fidelity and medium. For some designers, being able to prototype in the browser is a useful and powerful skill. For others it isn’t, and that doesn’t diminish their capacity to produce great work and communicate their ideas effectively.
I disagree with pretty much all of this design piece. But I'd rather read this than most stuff I agree with. http://t.co/m4uPulA1wb— Simon Bostock (@posthorse41) April 21, 2015
Every designer should read this article series by Eli Schiff: http://t.co/m36qooHf5A— Typophile (@Typophile) May 8, 2015
I can’t stress enough how important the design writing and criticism @eli_schiff has been pumping out this entire year is for our industry.— Jordan Kay (@_Jordan) April 7, 2015
If you’re a designer who has questioned the “flat trend” since the start, this post by Eli Schiff is a must: http://t.co/FpXTqrxR98— Sarah Parmenter (@sazzy) April 16, 2015
I can't believe how many revered designers are now saying all the visual design work they used to do was superfluous. http://t.co/ysbBwcWIN3— Mike Rundle (@flyosity) May 5, 2015
@eli_schiff I don't think I've read a rant that I agree with more completely than your Fall of the Designer series.— Christopher Fahey (@chrisfahey) May 7, 2015
Really good article. Unfortunately not appearing current and trendy also impacts the bottom line. http://t.co/Zg28QEXRnC— Paul Haddad (@tapbot_paul) April 21, 2015
Designer News Threads
In case you get to this part of the roundup, I feel I should clarify something: as much as dense counter-critics claimed it to be, "Fall of the Designer" was clearly not about 'falling to one's death.' It was about a 'fall from grace.'