Flat Design

What is flat perspective?

In its pure form flat perspective there are no line, no shadow or converging lines to represent depth. The process of flattening can create interesting distortions of the form. The lack of visual depth makes the whole surface area equally important. It has a different visual dynamic, placing more emphasis on abstract line, colour and shape. This approach is often used by illustrators involved in pattern-making, fabric design, textiles and other surface-based media. It is also common in film animations.

Historical precedents

This type of perspective is common for example in:

Egyptian wall painting

Isis with her Horned Crown
Isis with her Horned Crown. Note the profiles of the face, the full front torso, the side view of the chair, flat stylised wings and the five flat fingers on the hand

Classical Greek vases

Here the figures and the table are all side view on.Drawing of the hands however is more realistic than in the Egyptian painting.
 Panel amphora from the workshop of Exekias. Note the shapes of the legs. These figures do have some flat but 3/4 foreshortening
Panel amphora from the workshop of Exekias. Note the shapes of the legs. These figures do have some flat but 3/4 foreshortening


Western Art

Art Nouveau, Art Deco and some paintings by Picasso which reduce 3D representations to 2D images.

Woodcuts and linocuts

Some linocuts like those by the Grosvenor school


Film Titles

Saul Bass‘s film titles

Abstract Painting

Will Scott‘s Still Life

Contemporary ‘flat illustration’

‘Flat illustration’ has become very fashionable with digital software like Illustrator. This takes flat perspective even further and uses solid blocks of colour/tone to represent objects, reducing details to very simple shapes. Flat illustration is often used in information graphics, cartoons and Flash animation.

Adam Simpson‘s Moby architecture illustrations

See Flash video by Georgetoon on cartoons

There are differences between illustrators and images eg  two or more sides of objects may be shown with different tones and or slightly converging lines to show some form. Some illustrators do add shadows.

Further possibilities from photography

Some illustrators have also drawn on photography to produce flat images.

Flattened perspective in photography reduces the depth of a photograph through using a telephoto lens and using minimum aperture to reduce differences in focus between near and far objects.

Illustrators who use this type of approach:

Malcolm Coils for townscapes

Panoramas can also be seen as a form of flat perspective:  round views of up to 360 degrees is reduced to one flat image.


Find examples of illustrators who have designed wallpapers, fabrics, wrapping paper or for other flat surfaces that you find interesting. How do their illustrations play with the idea of flatness?

research on packaging


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