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The truth is, that there is a very common opinion that highlights the similarity of flat design and material design. To the point of complete incapability to find significant differences between them without a proper level of design knowledge. 

To fix this and make you fully aware of the topic, in this post, we will shed some light on the overall concept of both flat and material design, define their key differences and similarities, and discover major pros and cons of both approaches.

A Bit of Background

Before diving into the main discussion, let’s find out more about the roots of current and previously popular design approaches.

Skeuomorphism and its influence

In the context of User Interface (UI), skeuomorphism refers to a practice of digitally imitating real-world objects by filling them with additional volume. There is no need to go too far; Apple’s refreshed iOS interface is the most vibrant example. As you can remember, prior to now, their app icons used to have more realistic textures, shades, and halftones. 

Unleashing Creativity: The Battle of Flat Design vs. Material Design - 10+ Points 1

All this digitalized realism served to facilitate smoother transitions for people from the real world to active utilization of digitalized tools and environment in general. That’s why such design solutions were existing for such a comprehensive time frame.

Over time, the IT industry started to focus more on the usability and operational efficiency of software rather than on visually catching icons. Now, to create an app for your business, you should also include the interoperability aspect of your application. This is where conciseness and minimalism become your loyal assistants. 

Anyway, skeuomorphoius solutions are still highly visible on the modern design radars, and are commonly used in video games. Here it’s especially important to focus on design vibrancy to catch gamers attention.

Flat Design

This type of design is a straight 2D. It’s usually free from multidimensional elements and is literally more about variations of colors, fonts, and shapes rather than textures and volume. Technically, this simplified approach allows for a significant decrease in page load time due to the absence of bulky and thoroughly detailed elements. Besides, the flat design looks appealing on both high and low-resolution screens. This also makes it perfect for mobile devices.

flat design material design

Another aspect is that a flat design delivers the intended message more quickly due to a simple, almost schematic design, making it almost primitive but still efficient. By this, it’s much easier to reach as many user’s attention as possible.

However, the adoption of a new design concept was not that easy for all companies at once. For example, the Microsoft Windows 8 usability test represented a high level of rejection among users. The primary concern was that users couldn’t distinguish interactive design elements first, usually confusing them with unactionable logos. 

In turn, Apple didn’t share the same experience. In opposite their new design concept was accepted more positively by the users. This is implied by the fact they didn’t try to discover a new UI concept, but just reconstructed and spiced up the existing iOS visual.

Material design

Material design is more considered to be a branded product rather than a widespread design variation. The word ‘branded’ here is mostly about a well-defined and structured set of guidelines and principles no designer can survive without today. Firstly introduced by Google, material design served as a great way to make all their applications look the same among all devices.

Being still quite functional in its own way, material design still may have some drawbacks to worry about. Sometimes, material design solution may appear too flat, and consequently it may appear mixed up for users at first. In other words this design concept requires a ‘get used to’ period. 

To be more clear, material design is like a superior version of flat design, embracing some skeuomorphism details like animations, shades, and layers. In this way, users receive a more attractive and intuitive navigation and simplicity in the general design concept.

Unleashing Creativity: The Battle of Flat Design vs. Material Design - 10+ Points 2

Flat Design Pros and Cons

Well. as you already know how and why the design approaches were changing, and now we can proceed to the core essence. Let’s discuss flat design pros and cons first:


  • Conciseness 
  • Clear for an average user to comprehend
  • Time and financially efficient
  • Content-oriented
  • Interoperable on various devices
  • Faster to create


  • It can be overly simplified
  • Limited in terms of color choice, shapes, and iconography
  • Lack of intuitive
  • Low uniqueness potential

Material Design Pros and Cons

Let’s also sum up this player’s strong and weak points:


  • Also quite concise and minimalistic
  • Intuitive
  • Moderate skeuomorphic elements
  • Constantly updating well-defined guidelines
  • Reinforces web animations


  • Owned by Google (making it harder to adjust to your needs without the vendor’s permission)
  • It takes more time and effort to implement
  • Energy-consuming motion
  • Need to strictly adhere to guidelines

Summing Up

It’s generally quite hard to outline the superior design solution here, as both of them are similar, and the application of each (flat and material design) for different purposes may vary. Both are currently on top of their popularity and are not overweight with excessive visual elements. Still, the key difference is Google’s ownership of the material design approach, while flat design serves as a mixture of numerous design practices resulting in pure simplicity.

It’s also worth noting that flat design is continuously evolving and has already managed to evolve throughout the past years. Learning from their own mistakes, the term ‘flat’ smoothly migrated to ‘semi-flat’, enriching digital objects with more depth using layers and shades. We can now roughly call this innovation flat design 2.0.

To find what design approach will suit your exact project, try different layouts and color schemes. Don’t be afraid to experiment with shapes and shades, too. Only by hitting all options, it’ll be possible to select the design solution that will highlight your software or application advantages. 

Finally, you can still combine two design approaches to create your unique outlook on your solution visual concept. Design is not about cold calculation. It’s about the emotion and association the user gets from your solution, it’s usability, responsiveness, and visual satisfaction.

Guest Author
Yuliya Melnik

Yuliya Melnik is a technical writer at Cleveroad, a software development company in Ukraine. She is passionate about innovative technologies that make the world a better place and loves creating content that evokes vivid emotions.