Make it flat. Make it the all same. Make it Boring.

"Less is a bore" brilliantly said Robert Venturi.

So at the end of the Oxygen period, UX/UI design was reaching an inflection point. Gone were the days were graphical designers challenged its own illustrations skills in a perpetual "I can my candy more naturalistic silly than yours".
We had reached the saturation point of the silliness in graphic representations of every day objects as UI elements. Now back then people needed to find a culprit for it all, a quintessential word that in itself represented all evil... Cue in "skeuomorphism", an word used in traditional design to imply a faux representation of a material. in this word we collectively found the  "wrong" to be corrected, we had our culprit.

We have to kill all aspects of anything skeuomorphic, cue in flat design, we don't need anything "fake", we don't need textures, we must do without those fake drop-shadows, kill all artificial gradients. reinvent the circle in a precise concise square.  

Well this all to me back then sounded a bit like a personal attack ;), I mean, gradients and shadows is all I did :) and just because some were abusing it  I had to pay for it?
And I said, they were all wrong, this was nothing more than a modernism surge all over again, "skuemorphism is all we do in UI any way" all the concepts in the desktop are skuemorphick, seriously we call it DESKTOP, we use Buttons and Folders we can't do anything but Skeomorphic designs the only non Skeomorphic design would be a screen turned off.

Sad reality is that being right when everybody else is wrong, just makes you irrelevant. And its not like that despite the argumentation being fundamentally wrong, there  was no need for change, there was!
Overly done design tends to be a trick a designer will do when he cant  find a efficient answer, and we all abused this "trick".

Out of it some great new concepts and methods came to life, must say I'm a bit of fan of Google new "material" design language. (in fact material design is IMO not flat I mean they must have called it its "material" for some reason ;) ) 

But so comes today, every little single designer agency looks the same, its easy to achieve the current dictatorial style, slap in a blurred background a lonely Helvetica Neue on top and you are almost there.
Trendy websites pop out everywhere looking exactly the same as one cooperative unique brand took control of everything.

And its a BORE....

What will come next?
Don't know, predicting this sort of things is absolutely futile, and I'm almost sure that anything that comes after it will retain some of the best aspect it brought out. Think we are in a transitory period and something new is around the corner.      


Anonymous said…
For what it's worth, I love all the Oxygen stuff. The iconset, the Qt theme, the Plasma theme, the kwin theme, and even the mouse cursors.

Not to criticize anyone, but I like it a lot more than the Breeze stuff, which is, granted, very well done and nice, but certainly not my style. It's great to have options. Oxygen FTW!

I hope you can maintain the Oxygen stuff for a looong time. And thank you, and all involved, for it!

Cheers! =)
Unknown said…
So why that "new" Breeze stuff, I love how whole Oxygen has evolved, but last time I tried out beta of KDE next, oxygen looks broken there :'( and the default styles are too retro, depressing, unfriendly and hard for my eyes.
Anyway, being bored is the perfect moment for an inspiration and new ideas. I wish you many good ones and hope you bring us something even more beautiful and useful than already awesome Oxygen ;)

Have a nice day :)
Pinheiro said…
ok guys, Breeze is great its a Son of its time and its supposed to be a defoult theme, takes time to get it right the good people at Breeze are working hard finding their path and I'm all for it.

this is more of a reflex on how this things work and were it might go, also were I might go, because I don't have all the answers but have a lost of questions and sometimes those are just as important.
BartOtten said…
There are many many many reasons why flattism is the default nowadays. One of them: everyone is busy, everthing wants attention and flattism is considered the opposite: 'friendly,easy on the eye and colorful but not a christmas tree'. A.k.a: as my mom sees such a design, she immediately thinks it is an easy app to use.

Just like you I like Material design. And just as you I first thought it was just another name for flat design. But in reality it is the opposite: they use layers and those are 'defined' by shadows! Imho, Material fixes the problems that flat design has by being less flat :)

Now for Oxygen: I was once super enthousiastic about it. The icons were fabulous, Oxygen win-theme a winner etc etc. KDE 4.0 was sexy! But as time passed, the major flaw became more clear to me: useless lines all over the place, different 'weight' for each icon and too grey. Just have a look at a KDE4 app, and count EVERY line that could be removed without breaking the GUI. For example: It's Inception all over the place: a scrollbar in a 'box', placed in a box which on itself is placed in another box etc etc.

I am not saying that Oxygen caused it. But I am glad that the 'restrictions' of flat design / Breeze / the UX team will prevent more clutter in the feature. After all: today it's a whole team and they should a least achieve what you achieved at your own years ago: a sexy KDE :)

Thanks for making me proud all those years to show of my awesome desktop with Oxygen!

*Google Drive using a "New Document" icon at the bottom right at my mega monitor is just plain wrong though.....
Pinheiro said…
Bart never for a second did I saw material design as flat :) in fact I loved the name "material" as if the drop-shadows and the use of paper texture was not of an enough hint about the Google designers intentions ;)

App design and apparent simplicity of apps as more to do with he way we see an application than style, traditionally we thought of apps as ways to espose features, cue in the multiple rows of icons that gave the user links to the series of features...It mapped in a way, the way development was is made. Today with the influx of designers into the process that are a bit more detached from the internals of the app the focus is more on the path rather than the individual sub tasks... this makes for more imersive experiences that try to explain the path the user should take rather than presenting all the features at once..

As for the oxygen theme style, agree but you have to remember what it replaced, remember that it was a fight to get something as trivial today as a windeco that is visually indistinct from the app content. Wen introduced people complied oxygen was to barren and lacking hints of what elements were...

as for the oxygen icon style, all I can say is sorry but could not agree more with you :) doing something like that today I would tacle the issue in a drastically different way
Unknown said…
My first opinion on the flat design was also refusal because it lacks on important cues. But I was disabused: pseudo flat works. Breeze feels very precise with the clear border. In contrast gradients introduce some kind of visual fuzziness. And, as Bart said, the reduction and simplification is a major improvement. Breeze is not just the design but as well a whole concept with a lot of foundation work.
However, to my guts there are about 1/3 of users that still prefer Oxygen over Breeze. Why not try to make the best of both worlds?
Pinheiro said…
Let me say it real clear, this article was not in the least bit an attack on Breeze, don't think breeze is all that flat at all if anything it way closer to material guidelines than metros typographical austerity.

I'm am part of the VDG not the most active one but, mostly because I don't want to infect the rest of the guys with my overly opinionated often wrong view on design issues.

If people don't remember what oxygen was in the beguiling let me remind everyone that at a certain point all icons were black and glossy ;) It takes time to find one self.
Unknown said…
As an end-user with no graphical talent whatsoever (that I have noticed myself at least) I find the "super simplistic" designs from Windows 8, recent Android and KDE Breeze nothing but boring. My wife who has a more recent phone/Android than me calls those icons "cartoonish" and that is not a compliment. So I agree with headline: Flat is just.. well flat, right
Neverendingo said…
Thanks Nuno for that post.
You mention something that really makes me sick. Whenever i open my feed reader and watch some feeds for "best webdesign inspirations" blabla i can only find the same stuff over and over these days. I am not against those designs at all, but calling them best webdesigns is a joke at best.
Like you say, there are a couple of points you should honor and you have a chance to get listed: use a huge background image, maybe blurred, huge heading, choose from a handful of well proven fonts. badabing!
Why am i keeping those feeds? Well, i still believe the business can change again :P
Design always was copied and reused, no question. But with this latest flat trend it seems worse to me. It makes it quite easy to call yourself a designer and sell your designs as "unique, refreshing, easy to use" or whatever buzz word is used. Which seems like the biggest joke to me. There is no uniqueness about it... For most webdesign agencies the flat trend is nothing more than having a great excuse for less work that needs to be done. Note: i am not against using it and if extensive research shows that a blurred background image is what the customer needs, then fine. But selling it as default is more than boring.

I am a huge fan of the material design, mostly due to its interactions. And they obviously really put a lot of work into the overall paradigm. Something i would not really say about apple's design (because i am not sure, not because i know the opposite. it just doesn't feel like it).

This is not about breeze at all, as i have not used it yet.
Pinheiro said…
Ingo +++++1 what currently is making me more irritated is the websites thing, THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME. its BOOORING and IMo bad for the end clients, I mean your product is supposed o be unique, so how come your website looks just like the one from your bank, detergent, lamp.... anything...
Unknown said…
@pinheiro - about the website design could this be connected to "responsive" sites? I recently recreated my company site as the old one looked fab on a computer but crap on phone/tablet. My new one, even in my opinion, looks "boring" but works on any device. Not being a designer I had to scout around for a cms theme that worked "responsively"
Pinheiro said…
@Orjan Sinclair dunno your specific case and I'm not an web expert of any time, websites adapting to mobile is a complex question IMO.

1) most of the mobile versions plain irritate-me I wish its was easier to get the proper desktop versions most of the time.

2) wen done right its Indeed usable, still visually connected to the main desktop and does not make the desktop version plain DUMB.

3) Themes, yes that's the main problem a couple of themes got so much traction that every one ends ups using the same theme all over the place. one single visual language, for a selling cars, get you to vote, scam your for money, giving you advice.. its all the same and its Booring
MoonDragon said…
I left using Windows for good after seeing Metro and where it was going, although I never particularly liked it before that either... I am a bit frustrated with all these "flat", and in my opinion, boring design themes which make it even harder to familiarize oneself with a GUI.
Although I appreciate simplicity over flamboyance, I resent the flat 2-dimensional themes appearing up that even Apple is embracing in their new iOS. Nuno Pinheiro, to me you are the last hope of sanity in this orgy of 2-dimensional minimalism, and I hope you will be the one to turn it around.
MoonDragon said…
OK Skueomorphistic angst has taken over the asylum, creating an atmosphere of blandness unparalleled in modern GUI times..
I agree wholeheartedly!
and Jony Ive is probably the one individual most responsible for this... how fickle are we?
but the way forward lies somewhere in the middle. Icons should be easily identifiable and yet coherent, artwork should be similar but unique... hmmm where do we go from here?
Unknown said…
I find that new Breeze theme in Plasma 5 TERRIBLY, just TERRIBLY ugly. Its ugly colorless taskbar is literally painful for my eyes. This is how I like my desktop to look like:

not like this:

The reality is so sad because of this useless move to an ugly design :(
BartOtten said…
@ultragreen: That's not full Breeze. It's an outdated image
Unknown said…
@BartOtten - the full Breeze is still flat and boring
Hi there :)
There is at least one nice thing about flatness: it is much much easier to code (widget style, window decoration), and less bug prone !
CranKey said…
I tried Plasma 5 as part of an upgrade of a distro that I've used for years and was really turned off by the flat appearance of everything. I am not a theme designer so I'm not aware of the terminology for the different stylistic approaches. But I disliked the Breeze look so much that I switched to an older long term release so that I could avoid it. I'm hoping that Oxygen will eventually make its way onto Plasma 5 (it was an option when I tried P5 but it didn't change much). I prefer darker themes usually, like Oxygen 4.0, but I don't mind some of the later versions either. Unfortunately as time progressed even Oxygen started looking washed-out in areas. When I started university I had to program on green ASCII screens, so I enjoy having colour on my monitor now. I suspect the new generation of coders never had to deal with 8-bit colour (much less ncurses) so they think they're discovering something new with this blandness.

It's ironic that Plasma 5 is promoted as being suitable for high resolution displays but at the same time Breeze is regressing to simplistic designs that seem to be suitable for low-res black-and-white monitors.

I'm holding out for a version of Plasma 5 that doesn't make me feel visually impaired. I think I have until 2017 before my LTS support runs out.
右京样一 said…
With time goes, I miss the oxygen theme more and more.

Even new Mac OS theme has a lot gradients and abundant shadows. How KDE breeze theme just looks like a half-finished prototype...
Andre said…
I am redoing oxygen icon theme and mixing it with elements of faenza/faience, betelgeuse, new gnome, mine-osx and with some icons I did. For small and actions icons I am using breeze. The result have been very good (in my opinion, anyway).

I will probably replace some arrows icons from breeze to achieve a more balanced result.

Thank you for all the superb work you done on oxygen. I love the icons and the theme. It is really a laborious task to create such a huge number of high-quality icons like the oxygen team did.

About your point, I was working with graphics design in the beginning of 90's, it is all déjà vu to me.

I would add one more point too, I don't know why but most designers I know have this urgency to roll "my own vision" and, on doing so, it is quite common to dump excellent concepts for no better reason than pride and vanity, or so it seems. That is a huge mistake. It is very different from other fields where reuse and adapt is the preferred modus operandi. Very sad.

Again, thank you very much.

Best regards,
manuel said…
i love oxygen than breeze, becuase my eyes are hard with breeze, i wish: oxygen does ALIVE..possible for plasma5?
Imerion said…
Great post! I agree wholeheartedly. Oxygen is fantastic and I'm not a fan of breeze at all. I love gradients and shadows, I hate flat and minimalistic. I hope this trend will turn soon.

Coincidentally, can oxygen worl with KDE5? I have yet to try it.
Ákos Szederjei said…
Oxygen is good! Oxygen is life!

Seriously, may favourite design by far! I would pay to have that design everywhere! It was such good design for KDE that it is still, IMHO, very much the design related to it.

Please keep the theme supported! Kickstart it or just make a deal with the devil! :)

Thank you and the team for the hard work!
Unknown said…
I like material for things, but I'm beginning to think that KDE doesn't have the unified or simplistic enough environment to pull off something as clean and easy on the eyes as the Adapta theme made for gnome. One indicator is how the excellently ported Arc theme still can't make the applications as well spaced and visually harmonious. I think pause KDE needs something like Oxygen (window theme not desktop theme) to make the sections stand out and seem organized
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MamiyaOtaru said…
oxygen vs breeze:
What a mess. Breeze has ruined kolourpaint
Andre said…
Hi Nuno,

I almost finished my take on icon themes for KDE and Gnome. Used a lot of things from Oxygen, Gnome and Faenza. May you be interested see, what I posted on

It will probably take 1 to 2 months to get all things the way I think they should.

Best regards (and many, many thanks to all contributors to KDE Oxygen),
Nina Athena said…
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and knowledge on this topic. This is really helpful and informative, as this gave me more insight to create more ideas and solutions for my plan. I would love to see more updates from you.

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