I'm not a designer nor a graphics artis. But I wonder, are there any basic rules that can be applied to make for example diagrams or small illustrations look modern/flat/whatever you would call it.

For example, I have this diagram:

enter image description here

Which obviously is not flat since it has shadows. If I remove shadows and gradients, it pretty much looks like crap. It doesn't give that cosy cute feeling of flat Icons.

So what should I aim for to make this look crisp and nice in the way flat icons do?

Edit Another attempt was: enter image description here Which imo look way worse than the first.

Edit again

Flat http://akkadotnet.github.io/content/images/actor.png

I dropped the shadows (pun intended) And removed some cluttery details, eg the head of the arrow and the cloud.


  • Hi Roger, welcome to GDSE and thanks for your question! Do you have a picture of what you tried--this diagram with the shadows and gradients removed? Thanks!
    – Vincent
    Aug 18, 2014 at 12:15
  • In wich way do you need a "flat" design in order to communicate your subject? If you're not a designer the top example is imho perfectly fine. In which context and medium do you use it?
    – KSPR
    Aug 18, 2014 at 14:40
  • I think your second "flat" example would look fine if you simply scaled back the width of the bold black box outlines.
    – ghoppe
    Aug 18, 2014 at 15:47
  • 'flat' doesn't mean any one thing in particular. But if you're aiming for something ios7-ish, take the first example, remove the shadows, and bump up forground/background contrast a bit. Keep in mind 'flat' design doesn't mean you have to get rid of things like gradients--and you can even use shadows if you want...it's just that they tend to be 'flat' shadows (ie, no blur).
    – DA01
    Aug 18, 2014 at 17:20
  • 1
    I'm voting to close because its a bit unclear what you're looking for. In that I mean, you had a question but you also seem to be looking for a critique. Please clarify if you want to know "What are the basic rules for flat design?" Or if you want us to critique your design. If it is the critique as your edits seem to indicate read through our critique guidelines here and follow them: meta.graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/672/…
    – Ryan
    Aug 19, 2014 at 17:02

3 Answers 3


'Flat design' is just a trend really, and so the general rules of graphic design apply, including colour, proximity, contrast, form, balance, hierarchy etc. The thing that differentiates flat design is pretty much just using stark blocks of colour without any texture or depth. Maybe a subtle gradient, that's it.

IMO, your first example is nicer to look at. Though it gets a bit heavy on the gradients/shading on the arrow.

With your second one, the main points are the borders are inconsistent and much too thick for the text, and the arrow/tube around the arrow/'actor' box are really hard to tell apart (this could just be my monitor though). I think the aesthetics is about all I can crit because I don't know what an event-driven thread is.

By the way, don't take the above harshly. It's designed well enough in that it's easily readable and not overly cluttered. If I was wanting to know how an event-driven thread works, this would be well suitable.

  • 2
    Nice answer, and welcome to GDSE. If you have any questions, please check out the help center.
    – Vincent
    Aug 19, 2014 at 9:00

Adding to Surajck's answer, the issue with your example (as far as being "flat") is about shadows, borders, and also shapes.

Flat is not only about color, it's also about clean lines, and elements that look simple.

I modified your example a little, to show how I would make it flatter (this is a quick attempt, just to show some options):

enter image description here

I removed the round corners, simplified the mailbox shape and used only solid colors, no gradients. I also aligned the shapes. The result is a flatter, albeit a little dull, design.

  • FWIW, gradients are quite popular in 'flat' designs. iOS7 is a good example.
    – DA01
    Aug 19, 2014 at 0:30
  • Yes, they are now. But very subtle ones in the case of backgrounds, or blocky in the case of shadows...
    – Yisela
    Aug 19, 2014 at 0:40

Many good 'flat designs' generally use color contrast (and only color contrast) to differentiate between various elements. That is the stand out feature.

Simple shapes will do the trick; no fancy shadows, depth, bezels, lights etc. Borders are not very aesthetic, like you can see in your image.

Stick to different shades of the same color for a theme. Use colors for objects that seem to convey their purpose, like green for GOOD and red for BAD.

Grays provide a good base color to paint static objects with, and color for dynamic elements.

A preferably thin sans serif font to go with the design.

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