Flat design is a visual aesthetic. That means, it makes a design appear a certain way, without necessarily influencing the way it’s constructed or organized. You can have a flat looking website or app that is extremely complicated, with menus and buttons and CTAs all over the place. The only difference is that it looks simpler and more “authentic” to the digital medium.Minimal design, on the other hand, is a design philosophy. A website with a minimal approach will be simpler to navigate and use, even though it may contain clunky or inelegant visual elements. The difference between flat and minimal might best be summed up, like many things in life, with a food comparison. If flat design is a trendy new ingredient used in all the hippest restaurants, then minimalism is the classic cookbook that the very best chefs all consult when coming up with new ideas for dishes.
Well, that depends. Certainly, it’s important to the field of design as a whole, but when it comes to your client’s individual projects, there are some things to consider. First, does your client even want or need a minimal design? No one would call Amazon’s or eBay’s websites “minimal,” and yet they are some of the most popular and heavily visited sites online.
Second, will a minimally designed website or application help or hurt your client’s target user experience? I’m certainly in the “less is more” camp myself when it comes to most types of design. But believe it or not, there is such a thing as too minimal. If a design’s minimalism is impeding usefulness or a user’s ability to navigate to what they need quickly and efficiently, then elements must be put back in to make the experience richer and more meaningful.
No one can say for sure whether the flat phenomenon is merely a trend or a movement that has real staying power. The iPhone and iPad revolutionized the mobile industry, possibly forever, and flat, authentic design certainly seems to be seeping into every aspect of digital design.
What makes a trend more likely to stick around is usually whether or not the most influential designers who use it actually know what they’re doing. For example, if you’re a chef, you might choose to use an exotic new ingredient in your culinary masterpiece, but either way, you still can’t ignore all the principles of great cooking. If a designer has a sound understanding of fundamental design principles, then whatever they make popular is going to have an easier time becoming a standard, rather than a fad.