Can Flat Design Change An Entire Culture Built On Ornateness?

The World Is Flat by Saudi designer Khansa’a Abu Naji hopes to convince the Arab world that there’s profoundness in simplicity.

Flat design trends tend to be phrased in terms of the way they challenge the paradigm of skeuomorphism, but one Saudi designer is trying to do more than that. Through a series of attractively designed, minimalist interpretations of real-world objects, graphic designer Khansa’a Abu Naji is hoping to challenge the design prejudices of Arab culture as a whole.


“As Arabs, we tend to make things more complex than they need to be, because we are trying to impart a deeper and more profound meaning to a design through ornateness,” Abu Naji tells Co.Design. As a result, empty space in Arab design tends to be treated as an unnatural void that should be filled with extraneous detail and interconnected relationships.

As a graphic designer, Abu Naji found this cultural design prejudice to be stifling. The World Is Flat is Abu Naji’s attempt to prove to clients brought up in a design heritage of ornateness that a design does not necessarily deepen with every added line, shadow, gradient, or curlicue. Sound familiar? Instead, good design distills something, whether an idea or an object, down to its essence. “Good design is about granting access to the bare truth of things,” she says.

Whether an ice cream cone or tub of popcorn, a record player or an alarm clock, Abu Naji’s series uses flat design as a purification tool. “It looks easy, but it’s very difficult to simplify a design down to its essence,” says Abu Naji. “For the designs in The World Is Flat, I start by looking carefully at objects, trying to identify their main elements. I then sketch them on paper to get rid of all their shadows, gradients, and tiny extraneous details. Finally, I transfer them to the computer for drawing and coloring. The real excitement for me comes when I compare the photo of the object with my finished design. It is astonishing to me how much more we can get from doing less.”

To Abu Naji, flat design is more than just a fad; it is “a revolution against data overload,” a purifying technique that can be used to bring out the meaning that is being obscured by overwhelming detail.

“The use of modern devices has reduced the need of having cluttered objects in our lives,” says Abu Naji. “That’s why companies like Microsoft and Google have led the way when it comes to minimalistic digital design trends.” The world may not be flat, but thanks to smartphones and tablets, it is flattening.

As for whether flat design will be viewed with just as much gawking disbelief as some design trends of yesteryear, Abu Naji thinks that it is here to stay. “We still enjoy minimalistic designs done decades ago,” she says. “Flat design is something that has been embraced by great designers for years, a timeless victory over the power of simplicity over cluttering. Design trends come and go, but the principles of great design stay forever.”


More of Abu Naji’s design work can be found on her site here