It’s Cool to be FLAT 2.0 @ IgniteNYC

Leesean Hepnova

Photo by James Duncan Davidson.

I gave an updated version of the It’s Cool to be Flat talk at Ignite NYC last night.  I created the presentation with Nicholas DiBiase of Hepnova, and gave a previous version of the talk at ITP30 Pecha Kucha.

You can also download the presentation here: [PDF] [PPT]
UPDATE (11/17/2009): Here are my presentation notes. Hopefully the video will be on YouTube soon.

1. Hi. Iʼm LS. I am a creative technologist, and masters student at ITP, the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU. I developed this talk with Nicholas DiBiase of HEPNOVA Multimedia, who gave a version at Phoenix Design Week last month. This is a manifesto. This is a provocation. Itʼs cool to be flat. Cool like McLuhan. The world is flat. Letʼs embrace it.

2. A specter is haunting the world of the web and visual design. The specter is the gratuitous use of gradients, drop shadows, and faux 3D. This slide is a Wall of Shame. Join me in a holy alliance to exorcise this specter.

3. Welcome to Wankery, Inc. 2.0. Reflections and gradients do not equal instant web 2.0. These visual artifacts are a cheap trompe lʼoeil that dupes clients into paying more for ugly. This slide will be the death of me, one of us will have to go.

4. Design is not a dark art. Art for artʼs sake has its place, but design for design sake forgets the user. As designers, we need to be comfortable with our craft, Itʼs OK, really. Design is about function, not about showing off chops and gadgetry.

5. Design is compressed communication and not decoration. (seems obvious, but maybe those who proliferate gradients and reflections didnʼt get the memo) Good design expresses a lot of information in a short amount of space or time.

6. Simplicity is key. Condense and clarify, it donʼt clutter or complicate. Strip away the unwarranted and the unnecessary. Make positive use of negative space. Silence is negative space in time (pause)

7. Avoid pseudo 3-D effects and embrace flat. Work with rather than fight against with the nature of the 2-D media in which we work, be it print or a computer screen. Work with your constraints, and make use of other techniques, like bold color contrasts, interesting textures, and plenty of negative space,

8. Letʼs rise up in a tidal wave of change to bring flat back to the interwebs. This is restoration, not revolution. Flatness has a long and proud tradition through history and across world cultures, from this Hokusai woodblock print, to Western modern art.

9. From the Ancient Greeks to the Pacific Northwest Indians, flat art is internationally awesome. Artisans and craftspeople have worked with the constraints of the media and materials, and made effective use of bold lines and color contrasts.

10. In the Western Modern art tradition, artists like Mondrian, Matisse, and Kandinsky embraced the flatness of their canvases, through minimal, flat forms, their paintings are in a way, low resolution, high contrast A provocative challenge against the hegemony of traditional perspective.

11. Two more examples. Lichtensteinʼs work is comic book flat, while Calder is seriously simple. Lichtenstein makes the mechanics of the flat page a central element While Calder uses the intensity of his color contrast to take flat reductionism to an emotional extreme.

12. From cartoons to gallery walls. Ren & Stimpy to Murakami. Flat is back to the forefront of pop culture. Flat knows no distinction between the high and the low. Murakamiʼs superflat explores the superficiality of pop culture, but only the shallow know themselves, so thatʼs ok. *Thanks Oscar Wilde.

13. Visual and web designers can take some cues from the modernist architects. A simple ABC from Alvar Aaalto to the Bauhaus to Le Corbusier. Strip away the frivolous And cleanse the degenerate decadence of digital rococo that is rotting away the soul of the internet.

14. Letʼs take it to the bridge with a musical analogy. Hair rock vs. Punk Rock. We want to be punk. Do you want to contort yourself around a polytonal 11th chord with sus 4 flat 2? Or do you want to play a punk rock power chord? Think about it?

15. Here are some memorable and versatile “flat” logos. IBM lconveys the timelessness of Big Blue Chanel takes simplicity and turns it into elegant luxury Ubuntu conveys its values of community and sharing
BP is sinister greenwashing, but aesthetically brilliant And the Wu Tang, is Wu Tang

16. The formula is simple. FLAT is function over ornament. Get rid of the excessive. Elegance is not ornament. The slide speaks for itself. Reflections are the worst kind of vanity.

17. Design is about conveying your values and your vibes. Even without gradients, drop shadows and reflections, you can communicate with bold use of color, line, and contrast. Say more with less.

18. FLAT builds character. Hello Kitty is just a few lines and dots. She doesnʼt even have a mouth, but she is part of a multimillion $$ global empire Their simplicity means that they are accessible and universal, we can project our own meanings onto these characters. These 2 guys below are ODI and AMO, two characters I created last year.

19. This is a challenge to embrace the values of Flatness. This is the DAO of FLAT. Itʼs COOL to be FLAT. Be bold, be iconic, make a statement. Letʼs return to the values of simplicity and clarity in design.

Want to philosophize about flat? Or just tell me that Iʼm wack? Find me on the interwebs at or @leesean on Twitter. Thank you!

Here’s a photo by Carlo Demarchis of me presenting last night:


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