Fast and Flat: Web Design for Speed Optimization

May 22, 2013
By Forge and Smith

With the advent of HD screens and Retina Displays, web designers and developers work tirelessly to make sites accessible, functional and informative. Some of us may cling to the heavy graphics and layers we were taught to create, but those on-screen elements are no longer working on the mobile web.

Gone are the days where web pages resemble newsprint and websites resemble brochures and ads. There is no longer a need to mimic print on the web.

We must think smaller when it comes to file sizes. We must think bigger when it comes to buttons. Plus, we must think beyond 2013 when it comes to responsive design. Out of all the things we must consider, I’m motivated by the potential of flat website design.

Flat website design is a creative style that strives to replace decorative elements such as gradients, reliefs, volumes and realistic forms with solid colours and typography. A flat website design uses minimal enhancements to create an accessible and informative presentation that, when paired with the latest web development, is fast and accessible.

One flat website design method that helps avoid scaling large-sized images for icons and buttons involves the use of Unicode (ASCII) characters and various font forms to create shapes and buttons. This method yields a minimalist style and pleasingly speedy load times.

The promise of quick load times (accompanied by an increase in conversions) may not be enough to convince you of the power of flat web design – yet. You might have get used to online bookshelves that look like bookshelves, online trashcans that look like trashcans, and online buttons that move when they’re clicked.

As my team prepares websites for anything—and as we wait for browsers to add support for the ideal use of SCGs for vector image files—flat website design and a sharp movement away from skeuomorphisms is a smart way to build the best user interfaces possible.

Various screen sizes put limits on our use of images. While this may create headaches for some designers and developers, we like to think of it as an opportunity. As I like to say, building a website is about problem solving.

Want to know more about our design process? Check out how we work.

UPDATE (January 2016):

The Forge and Smith team continue to be pioneers in web design, cautious of trends and instead focusing on crafting custom, purpose-built sites suited to individual businesses. The latest fad might be fun, but what matters is your site’s longevity. Take a look through our case studies to see our most recent work, and how our designs have evolved.

Forge and Smith

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