We’re living in a 3D world. So why on earth should you stick to a flat design? Isometric design—the latest design trend—gives you the best of both: a 3D design in which there are no converging perspective lines.
Kind of like flat design and 3D design having a baby.
So let’s get you ahead of the curve so you can be the first on your block to have this dynamic technique at your disposal. Put on your 3D glasses, grab a bag of popcorn and get ready to bob and weave, because the ins and outs of isometric design are coming your way.
Table of contents
1. Why is isometric style trending now?
2. The limitations of flat design
3. What makes a great isometric design?
4. When to use isometric design
5. Where to use isometric design
6. Give ‘em the power!
Why is isometric design trending right now?
Isometric designs are like your favorite Hollywood stars. They used to be flat and boring, but now you know a ton about them because of social media and #WokeUpLikeThis selfies.
Like social media, isometric designs give you more perspectives on a subject. Being able to see the side and top of a design makes folks want to know more about it. Especially for businesses who give their customers more options, or whose product or service looks great in 3D, isometric designs are the perfect visual metaphor.
The isometric technique also allows you to show more details with less clutter. Having the ability to show a space in 3D opens up nooks and crannies previously unavailable. There’s literally more space to put things in.
The limitations of flat design
Isometric design is a natural evolution out of flat design that retained its simplicity, but also added some new depth—literally.
Here are three ways that flat design can hold you back:
Flat design isn’t as ergonomic as isometric. (Say that one 5 times fast!)
When icons have depth, they look embossed or raised. Users know exactly where to tap or click.
Simpler isn’t always better
If designs are too elementary, displaying complex visual information can be difficult.
Flat design limits your visual options
You can have a bigger bag of tricks at your disposal when you’ve got a design with a top and two sides as opposed just a front.
How to make a great isometric design
Isometric design is built on a few simple techniques. If you’re design-savvy, this quick tutorial is a great way to learn how to put those techniques into practice.
As you start experimenting with isometric design—whether you’re a designer yourself or just need a design—here are a few important things to keep in mind:
The 120º rule
Isometric design is an exclusive club. Lot’s of pseudo-isometric designs are masquerading as the real deal. Don’t be fooled by them. It’s only isometric if there’s a 120º angle between the x, y, and z-axes.
No converging lines
Isometric style differs from how our eyes perceive things. Look down the street: the parallel lines receding into the distance converge into a vanishing point. This doesn’t happen with isometrics. There are no converging lines and things appear as they are, rather than as we wacky humans see them.
Since you can do way more tricks in three dimensions than in two, it’s tempting to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. But remember, just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should. When bombarded with too much information, users can easily become confused and be turned off.
This typography for a German radio station makes responsible use of isometric technique: one color, shading where necessary, and a readable font. The translation of the text is something like: “Hear yourself happy”. Beautiful message, elegant design.
When to use isometric design
Thinking of using isometric design, but not sure if you should? Here’s how you can see if they match up with your goals:
When you want to stay simple, but add depth
Isometric icons are a booming category of isometric design. This technique increases the visual appeal and recognizability of an icon. The chances of your customer squinting their eyes and saying, “What’s that?” is less if your icon has 3D structure and depth.
When you want to convey more details
Traditional 2D maps view an area from the top. But what if you want to see the front? Or a side? Tough luck. If only there was a way… Oh yeah, there is: isometric design!
When illustrating interconnected information
You can show an entire neighborhood in an easily digestible way with Isometric design. And we’re not just talkin’ buildings, bodies of water, and streets. Automobiles, trees, billboards, park benches, people, heck, even doggies can be depicted and understood at a glance.
When you want to take a refreshing approach
Isometric designs might be trending now, but, there’s an evergreen appeal to seeing objects with shape and depth. Back in 1988, comic books illustrators figured out how to draw with more depth than ever before, and they’ve never gone back. Why? ‘Cause it’s cooler when Spider Man’s web is coming right atcha!
Where to use isometric design
Because they’re typically so tiny, icons should be as simple as possible. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t also have structure and depth. Especially among the vision impaired and more spatially aware people, being able to see the side and top of an icon can make it more user-friendly. Viewers won’t have to strain their eyes as much, and can be more efficient in interacting with their device.
Also, since we’re so used to seeing flat icons, an isometric icon will pop out and grab a user’s attention. Combine the isometric technique with a bold or high-contrast color scheme, and you’ve got a real head-turner.
Isometric design is a great way to go if you want to do something clever with your logo.
Check out how the side of this letter “A” becomes an “E”. And in another subtle trick, the “L” is implied in the base. AwesomE!
This castle works perfectly in isometric style. The simple cylindrical/square motifs lend themselves to being seen in front, side, and top views.
Showing how information travels and moves can often be a snooze-fest. Spice it up with the isometric style!
With isometric infographics, not only do we easily understand how an office operates, but the isometric technique gives us a feel for the office space itself…
Or take a look at these examples. Oral surgery is nerve-wracking enough as it is. The last thing you need is to get confused about where to park before going under the knife. This isometric design leaves nothing to the imagination and is easy to memorize.
Even creative packaging—like this unique, multi-layered pizza box—becomes easily comprehensible with the power of isometric design.
Isometric design: a new angle of creativity
Cutting edge businesses and designers should strongly consider using isometrics. It’s a way of visually showing your values without having to write them down. This shows that your brand goes all the way with its philosophy and communicates that you are an authentic outfit.
A cool psychological benefit of the isometric style is that it mentally places the customer above your product or service. If you’re looking at something head-on, you feel on the same level with it. But the high angle provided by the isometric technique makes your audience feel in charge because they can look down on the subject, similar to the way a bird of prey does.
Now that you’ve seen the inner workings of isometric technique, it’s time to get ahead of the game and create your own isometric design!