Our study has shown that flat design is inferior to traditional design in most of the aspects we analysed.
After taking a quick look at the research, I'm not sure the results are definitive:
The first task pitchs
traditionalfonts (Helvetica, Arial, Tahoma) against
flatfonts (Helvetica Neue Condense/Light/Ultra Light), asking users to search for a word in 3 paragraphs of text. It seems that researchers include thinner fonts as an element of 'flat design', which I don't agree with. Bad typography ruins all design, be it flat or not.
The second task asks users to find an icon in a 9x9 grid. I think it's unfair, because it removes all context such as icon's positioning in a design (is the icon inside a button? does it live next to some text?). This might make for an interesting game, but it reveals nothing insightful about how flat icons may perform in a real design.
The third task asks user to find clickable and non-clickable areas of 2 completely different websites, one of which is a landing page for an app, the other is a booking service. They also have different amount of clickables/non-clickable areas.
There were only 20 participants of the same age group from the same university. IMO it's too small.
"A ﬂat icons search is performed almost twice as slowly as a realistic icons search, and is characterized by a higher cognitive load."
I've had this gut feeling that this was the case, it just makes sense that the more affordances someone has, the lower the cognitive load and the better the usability. I hope this triggers more discussion and research into design topics.
I hope 2019 will be more usability focused and less about homogenous trend following visual first design.
Let's bring back depth, detail, affordances, but only if it improves the experience. Let's borrow from the real world again, but only after we test it. Let's open our minds to different visual styles that show our users we care about craft and thus we are worthy of their time because if we care about craft we'll put their needs first. Let's make designs that always meet AA standards of accessibility and take account for good and bad user behaviors. Let's make designs that are as inclusive as possible.
Lets make 2019 about good, solid, user-centered, observation based design!