• Transform magazine
  • December 07, 2023


The world is flat (for now?)

Schermata 2021 03 09 Alle 15.12.33

CEO and founder of brand consultancy Saffron, Jacob Benbunan, explores how and why brands have now transformed into flat icons, arguing that it is essential for the creative industry not to maintain this apparent rule that a brand must be flat for it to be seen as effective.

If we take a trip down memory lane, back to the early days of app design, there was a tendency amongst digital brands to adopt skeuomorphism. These brands wanted to reflect the real world with 3D designs that were unconstrained by the smartphone itself. Aesthetically speaking, some did it with style and beauty while others, some might say, well, missed the mark.

Since 2016, due to new phone operating systems, an exponential growth of brands with strong app store presence and changing fashion, flat icons have grown in prevalence. Where at one time our phone screens were filled with logos jumping out to distinguish themselves with 3D effects, these same brands have now transformed into flat icons, each fading into the next in an undifferentiated way.

Big tech was the first to change but even if we move away from Silicon Valley and take the fashion or the automotive industries for example, this trend of uniformity continues. Fashion brands capitalised on their fonts and placed them on dark backgrounds, whilst automotive giants from Nissan to Volkswagen flattened their logos as if in unison. Of course each brand can be distinguished through their unique tone of voice or their spin on visual expression, but where once these brands fought for their logos to stand out from the crowd, an undeniable, and I would argue, tragic uniformism seems to have taken over.

What started as a way for brands to look cleaner and less cluttered on digital touchpoints, has now infiltrated the real world. An appreciation of the physical world with all of its fascinating peculiarities and differences seems to have disappeared, with brands either forgetting or deliberately limiting their customers' experience to that of the 2D digital perspective.

Looking at my phone right now, I am surprised to see one app that goes against the status quo. Clubhouse, possibly the world’s next major leading social network, has chosen an icon that reflects their audience. By opting for black and white images of real people instead of their logo, Clubhouse seems to be going against the sea of sameness - a good sign indeed for both their brand and the industry as a whole.

The fashion of flat logos might fade away, replaced by Neumorphism or some other trend. Or it might remain for years to come. Yet what is fundamental for our industry is that we do not maintain this apparent rule that a brand must be flat for it to be seen as effective. At Saffron, we speak to our clients about authenticity, relevance and differentiation. The dictatorship in brand design we are seeing now might lead to a distortion of these key brand pillars and even damage brand valuation. We are in the business of creating brands that work, not ones that comply with zeitgeist trends.