Flat Design Complaints

flat-ui-exampleFlat Design Complaints: a reader asks…

Ok, I’m going to rant here (sorry). I’m seeing this problem on my iPhone, and on my computer in various programs including Microsoft Office. The problem is that the design of buttons I can click on has changed. Now instead of visual buttons, all there is showing is a link with a word. Often I can’t tell if that’s a clickable link or not. Everything on screen is now devoid of shape or other indication that it’s a click point. Am I stuck having to deal with this or are there some arcane setting changes I can make to give me back my buttons?

You probably saw over the years as website designs moved from a graphical imitation of the real world (called “skeuomorphism“) to what is often called “flat design”. As the web world has moved, so has the design of software, operating systems and apps. Gone are the real-looking buttons with beveled edges, shadowing and other visual indicators. Apparently the designers have decided that the consumer is so used to clicking on things on-screen that we no longer need these visual cues. Probably based on some half-baked study or focus group.

I agree with you, the loss of these cues is unfortunate, not just for those of us too busy to hunt around for seldom-used controls and clickable links, but also for anyone new to computers, young or old. Unfortunately when it comes to websites, it’s totally up to the website designer to control how these links are created – but fortunately most still use the convention of underlining to signify a clickable link. Fortunately, operating system and software designers can put in switches so you can improve your situation a bit.


iphone-button-shapes-onoff-labels-screenshotIn the case of your iPhone, you should open Settings > General > Accessability and turn these two items on: First, scroll down to Button Shapes and slide the slider to on, then scroll down to On/Off Labels and slide that on. Unfortunately in iOS 12 the Button Shapes no longer fills in a button outline, but only adds an underline to controls (still better than nothing). The On/Off Labels setting adds a | or o indicator to the slider to let you know whether it’s on (|) or off (o). In iOS 12, the green coloring of control sliders is now standard, older versions that was an optional setting to turn on.

In Microsoft Office there are tooltips which should be enabled by default, so hover your cursor over an item and a tooltip will pop up to tell you about it. If it’s not turned on, go to File > Options > Display and check the box by “Show document tooltips on hover”, and under File > Options > Ease of Access check the boxes for “Provide feedback with sound” and Provide Feedback with animation, as well as all boxes under Application display options and Automatic Alt Text. In File > Options > Advanced, scroll down and check the box by “Show shortcut keys in Screen Tips”.’

For other programs you may have to hunt around the settings or preferences to see if there are any ways to improve the display of your controls. Unfortunately, flat design user interface (UI) is pretty popular so we are all stuck with it for now.

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