In 2010, technology corporate Microsoft released a new design language named Metro to guide the interface design of all their digital products. Metro marks the beginning of a transition in user interface design from a previous style called skeuomorphism, which involves the use of many realistic visual metaphors, to a more minimalistic style called flat design.
While this style change is widely discussed in the technology industry, it has rarely been studied within an academic context. As the first to survey Metro’s flat design within the design history discipline, this dissertation aims to answer the central question: What led to the rise of flat design in the early 2010s?
Interweaving rich primary materials, such as images, recordings, and official guides, with secondary sources that situate Metro in a broader historical and sociocultural background, the three chapters of this dissertation aim to offer a comprehensive view into the forces behind the stylistic transition into flat design. Chapter One examines Metro’s design inspirations, and unpacks the current discourse around skeuomorphism and flat design. Chapter Two focuses on the technological, strategic, and ideological forces that drove this transition. Chapter Three offers a more critical perspective, investigating the technological elitism within the industry that assigned certain value to flat design. Using the Metro design language as a central case study, these chapters can help shed light on the rise and persistence of flat design since the early 2010s.