Design is something that frequently changes when the trends change. As often designs go together in parallel, different manifestations happened throughout the ages. Design that is regarded as authenticity, is the representation of what people desires.
Since design is everywhere, available in every corners and in every pieces you see, it's somehow has a story to tell. When history of art goes in parallel with modern design, modern design is popularized with a "flat" looking style while designs in previous centuries are overdecorated. The reason for this is because at that time, mechanized mass production has allowed ornaments to be made cheaply. This led to ornaments we're used to see on classic-made products.
Technology has a huge role in determining how designs are produced. And in the current Digital Era, we exclude any skeuomorphism in order to make a simpler, cleaner and more focused design.
In creating new opportunities, technological progress sometimes leads to areas of excess. Cheaper products are usually machine-made, and are mass produced so they can be created as cheap as possible, neglecting the quality. These cheap products are common and can be found almost everywhere. On the other hand, products that used more materials and extensive labor, are much more expensive. These products were exclusive that only some can afford them.
In the 19th century, design came to a mass production. Because expensive handmade products that were often decorated with ornaments, were expensive, people are trying to replicate them, creating a knockoffs that look and feel similar to the real thing. Mechanized mass production allowed for ornaments to be created quickly and cheaply, leading the market overflowing with overdecorated products with ornament. This has made the quality design of the more expensive product diminish in time.
While the method of creation shifted from hand to machine, the style didn't.
Handcrafted decorations and ornaments that have been expensive to produce, were once served as a symbol of wealth and luxury. With the advent of mechanization, imitations of those exclusive design were easily replicated.
When that time came, the trends shifted. People started to benefit when they design something more aesthetic, something different, something that most people didn't have. Decorations and ornaments were refrained, and people started designs from bare "nude" form of plain canvas to contrast those cheap knockoffs of the once expensive and exclusive goods.
This was the time modern designs started to bloom.
The idea was to highlight beauty of a design by purely exposing its functions. In the modern era of design, decorations aren't anymore a necessity. Beauty that was once presented by sophisticated sculpture, has become bare, stripping itself from any superficial coats of decorations.
With decorations and ornaments eliminated, designs are completely meant to be served as purposed.
Modern Digital Design: Rise and Shine
Modern designs as we see, is simple. There is no luxury or any form of cosmetics that made them stand out. But what makes a modern design appeal to people beside it's plain simpleness? It's not because modern designs are characterized as anti-ornamental, it's because new designs are influenced heavily by the lifestyle of the modern era, the life where everything is instant.
As new styles came and went, trends are shifting to the needless ornaments. With almost everything we see can be created faster and better than before, with things in people's lives occupied by the fast moving world are instantly available, designs are becoming instant as well. Bare and simple, a movement towards a cleaner, more restrained form of design whose beauty lay in the shape and colors of the content itself, rather than in external decoration.
If compared to the whole history of designs, the history of software and computers is a lot shorter. But in that short moment, similar things happened.
As people were accustomed and familiar to ornaments and decorations, software design was meant to mimic the real thing. However, designers in those early days have limitations: technology. For that matter, graphical user interface was made rich in garnish, but low in quality and colors.
Similar things happened on the web when the internet came to existence. Early web designers were using heavily styled fonts and animations in order to create rich experience for their users.
Regardless of whether the designer wanted to deliver a richer visual experience, the technology at that time is limiting them from creating something sensational.
As technology evolved, designers were given a higher freedom. More powerful hardware can run better software. And better software comes with more features and ability, granting designers more things to explore.
Software design styles then imitate real-life objects and textures as they have a single purpose: making an interface look "real" and familiar to users. The history of graphic design also went in parallel as people also wanted richer sophisticated visuals in their products.
Then comes the time when designers started to the reasons and the logic of the design.
Those realistic effects do appeal to people. But does it have the ability of dynamism? Can the design can be fluid enough to be presented in many more places, rather than specifically created for one platform? When mobile devices became a must-have object for people, designers need to create software that fits everywhere it's presented. And designers don't want to create new design just for that sole purpose.
Microsoft was one of the pioneer of the newer type of software design. Starting from Windows 8, the company took a brave step away from such realistic visuals, attempting to give its operating system a new digital looks and, in its words, "authentic" look. The interface is built upon the principles that Microsoft developed for its earlier mobile release, presenting users with an aesthetic design that are not imitated from real life objects.
The design is called "Metro". With it, Microsoft relies heavily on typography, spacing and colors, to bring elegance to the new design canvas. Real life imitations and effects are discarded, leaving a content presenting itself, alone with nothing other than bare "colored" nudity.
The web also transformed in a similar manner. Earlier, designs were Flash-based, and designers are creating pixel-perfect websites. But as mobile devices came to a popularity, visually rich containers for contents weren't anymore seen as a presentation of dynamism and fluidity. Sophisticated web designs were restraining web designers to create designs that could change in widths and positions easily.
The web design uses extensive colors, typography and spacing. It's beauty is not anymore coming from rich visuals, but simplicity to the core. The outcome is a mostly flat interface with colorful and simplified appearance, just to highlight its functional interface.
Animations and Colors
Simplicity has a limit. When a design is stripped down to bare with nothing to decorate it, it becomes somehow confusing. In a design, eliminating shadows and some "cluttering" colors and shapes, may make a design more easier to understand, but on the other hand, too much elimination will also make it more frustrating to understand.
For example, removing visual cues, such as labels and button borders, won't make the content stands out. The elimination of the design aspects will give the users more work to do in terms of understanding their purpose.
To address that concern, animations stepped in. The designs, when untouched or when idle, won't give that much cues, just like bare and stripped design. But when users are interacting with them, the designs change, "popping up" to give the cues.
Often, this cues are featured in an interface such as a full-screen slider, a background color that changes. It doesn't attempt to mimic the real world, but it's giving the visuals as a guideline to their purpose.
The popularized "flat" design style may be a trend, but it is also the manifestation of a desire for greater authenticity in design, a desire to be different, the needs to stand out, the urge to create something innovative. When mechanized mass production goods changed the world we live in, computers did just the same thing when they became more powerful. And now we're seeing simplicity back, and that is not because we want to, it's because we need to.
Modern Design, Changing the World We See
What drives the trends of designs? For many ages, designs have been more sophisticated than ever, garnished with ornaments and designs to make them appeal more. What made designers do what they did? What made them radically shift from the trends that flourished for centuries?
The first answer is needs. With the development of technology, it answers many problems that were never answered before. But that in turn rises questions that were never asked before. Then came the second answer: authenticity. Designers took the chances to be different just to make their craft distinguishable, while at the same time, makes the usage outperforms its predecessors. When ornaments that were once luxury became similar to knockoffs because of mechanized machinery, designers need to do something to make them stand out, and they took the bet in doing so by eliminating those luxury altogether.
What makes a design authentic? The modern authentic design aims to be different and characterized by using designs without masking the real thing, making them elegant in their own way. Stripped and bare from external decorations, the design is about representing function in its most optimal form efficiently and effectively.
In the modern authentic design, decorations are limited, but style is still important. But it's not anymore used to pursue aesthetic. Rather than showing beauty in a form that people see it as beautiful, it's showing beauty in the form of creativity.
This form of design gave birth to minimalism designs. When modern authentic designs are aimed to remove garnish to present its functionality better, minimalist in design is what put that simplicity as a style for cleanliness.