Logos and icons have changed a lot over the past 20 years, but one particular move created a bigger impact than the others. The move from 3D to flat logos changed what we see in our daily lives. From phone app icons, to supermarket store logos through to our computer icons. Why have we seen such a large rise in the move from 3D to flat? Let’s explore this and discuss what this could mean for the future of logo and icon design.
Why Are Logos and Icons Important to Business?
Let’s start with the basics. Why do businesses need logos and icons? We use logos to help associate brands and businesses with services and actions. A strong and clear logo enables brands to become recognisable and more noticeable. A logo can help portray a message to a user, almost like revealing a thousand words through the one logo. This effect is similar with icons—they help explain a message without the need for much text.
How have Logos Changed over the Past 20 Years?
So now we’re all familiar with the fundamentals, let’s look at how logos and icons have changed over the past 20 years.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s the thinking behind logo and icon design focused on how to portray images so that they look more real. Take Google for example, a logo almost all of us see every day. Way back in 1997 Google’s first logo was 3 dimensional. When they officially launched their brand in 1998, they stuck with this 3D logo for a long time. An initial step to flatten the logo came about as early as 1999, though it would take over another decade until the company moved to flat imagery in 2013, and ever since then 3D logos became a thing of the past. But why is this?
Logos and Icon Design
Modern day logos and icons all have something in common. While scrolling through your phone or the internet, from Netflix to Instagram, you’ll see a range of flat, 2D designs. This modern-day flat design was not something new, as looking back to the 1970s we can see a range of brands using flat design, though it was not yet the time to fully abandon 3D design.
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New Technology and 3D Design
New technology gave designers more power to design in persuasive and progressive ways. Adobe worked on the computer-generated imagery (CGI) advances of the 1970s to release, a couple of decades later, InDesign and Photoshop which fuelled this designing fire. This helped push the world towards a more 3D look.
The Development of Skeuomorphism
As more and more of the world moved online, designers needed to help users move around this new space. This led to the creation of skeuomorphism, where design prompts are taken from the physical world and brought into the digital world.
How Skeuomorphism Changed Our Lives
We see the development of skeuomorphism in our daily lives. For example, the save icon resembles a floppy disk. The majority of individuals using the internet today most likely have never used a floppy disk though it is a symbol that we now associate with saving and was widely used in the early stages of our digital age.
The Rise of the Smart Phone
As individuals wanted more sophisticated technology, there was a large push towards the touch screen. The iPhone was one of the first and largest capacitive touchscreens, where the screen didn’t bend or warp when touched. This meant that designers needed to find a way to make smartphones intuitive. This is where we bring together skeuomorphic design with logos and icons.
Making Smartphones User-friendly
Smartphones were new and individuals needed to understand how they worked. Smartphone designers added feedback into their phones, through clicking noises and vibrations, to let the user know they had created an action. 3D design was one of these feedback implementations creating designs that mimic real world 3D space to help the user understand what each function did in a 2D (flat) world. And so, the calendar was a 3D rendering of a calendar date, and the old YouTube app was an old school TV. These design choices helped users feel comfortable within a whole new digital world.
3D moves to 2D
As the world became more familiar with using smartphones and other smart technology skeuomorphic design became less important. This allowed designers to re-explore 2D design. This move helped improve storage capacity for icons and imagery on a mobile device with limited space. It also created a cleaner and more refined design.
The Move Away from Skeuomorphic Design
The move away from this design allowed designers more creativity. No longer confined to the limitations of the physical world, they can now create designs based on their own ideas. A perfect example is the creation of the hamburger menu. The hamburger menu does not feature in a real-world scenario; however it is now a fundamental feature of our digital life.
The Big 3D to 2D Switch
The biggest turning point relates back to the iPhone. On September 18th 2013 Apple updated iPhones to iOS 7. With this new update came a host of design changes. The biggest was the switch from 3D to 2D icons. This caused much negative feedback from users due to a lack of understanding. However, over the subsequent 6 months users started to understand what was happening. And this appreciation brought about an even bigger switch.
Logos Changing to 2D
Logos and Icons needed to be changed to 2D to keep up with the trends. If they didn’t, they would look outdated. So, over the next year we saw logos, throughout the world, adopt this 2D design approach.
Benefits of 2D Design
This design change wasn’t without its negatives. However, the positives far outweighed these. The 2D design approach made it easier for designers to create complex designs. As well as this, the move to flat allowed for logos to become vectors, meaning that they could expand and shrink as needed, without losing quality.
What Does This Mean for the Future?
It is always difficult to predict where design will go. Everything in the design world is circular and design trends come in and out of fashion. However, with new virtual reality technology emerging, we can’t write off skeuomorphic design just yet. New technology means users need a helping hand to understand it. So, I’m sure we’ll still be using Floppy Disk save icons for a little while longer. Besides, the accessibility of skeuomorphism along with the minimalism of flat design can be combined to explore new possibilities with depth and texture, light and shadow, a concept embraced as material design.
If you’re looking for help with your logo or icon design, get in touch with us at Fellow. You can find all of our contact details below.