Flat design and non responsive websites threaten usability!

In this article we will be looking at the threat flat design and non-responsive designs have on tablet usability. We look at the return on frame concepts and user experience and user testing.

In the past few months the usability of flat design and non responsive design has been called into question because of the fashion trend of flat design, problem using company web apps, and unclear user elements on the user’s screen.

Jakob Nielsen in his findings for user research calls for a “golden middle ground between skeuomorphism and a dearth of distinguishing signifiers for UI elements”.

Two main threats

Nielsen highlights two main threats to usability. The first is flat design which some hope is just a phase and will subside before users and companies are hurt. The second threat is the non-responsive or improper rescaled designs which could last longer.

Flat design is seen by many experts as the main threat to usability because, according to Jakob Nielsen’s report, users have experienced problems with knowing where to click and what to do on the screen. Most problems have been experienced on apps as opposed websites because most websites perform okay on nearly all tablet brands and versions.

Non-responsive or improper rescaled designs threaten usability because websites designed for desktops and laptops and mobile smart phones app layouts do not adjust well to the screen size on tablets partly due to device diversity such as with Android tablets compared with the iPad and Windows counterparts.

Other issues

Return of the frame

Frames-like concepts such as split-screens and temporary frames for search results have emerged with a vengeance. Nielsen in his report recalled the use of frames and said “like zombies, certain bad designs come back from the dead to haunt users”.

Nielsen go on the say that even though tablets are bigger than mobile smart phone, the screen should not be divided into split screen or subdivided. The main reason for not doing so is because there is less room for content. Content should be put first. 

User experience

Concepts of user experience for website design appear to be spilling through on to design for apps on tablets and examples of this include the web search and the need for back buttons.

Users seek to surf the web as their main activity on the tablet and wish to use apps in the same way as they use the web. That is to search, explore and then go back.
In some cases user where faced with frames like screen and no search result screen that they could go back to. Also, the classic and ever helpful back button has been notably missing. If it was present may not have worked correctly. 

Usability testing is a must

Tim Tucker, a UX designer and content strategist, stresses the importance of user testing when it comes to app design because users frequently reply on their own experience of using of the Web in their use of apps. He goes on to say that visual design elements which include navigation, should always be tested with users.