A “flat” design removes the distinction between navigation controls and content.
Historically, navigation controls such as buttons were shaded, or given 3D relief,
to distinguish them from the application or web page’s content.
I have to agree with the OP about flat themes/decorations - they are harder to use than the “previous” generation.
One thing* I’ll sorely miss is KDE4 Crystal window decoration. It is highly (and I mean totally) configurable, with many button types and live coloring, captions, shades, background, logos, overlays for active and inactive windows, custom button positions, re-sizable window borders that actually work, title bar height, no issues with compositing on/off, etc. Worked brilliantly here for years.
I’ve tried a couple other decorations in oS 42.3 that look a little bit like Crystal (more of a pale simulacrum) but they are riddled with bugs. In fact, in my limited experience only Breeze is stable in KDE5, all others - including Plastik - have issues.
(* the other, of course, is different widgets per desktop).
Re. the flat B&W default theme in oS 42.3 KDE, I find that switching icon theme to Oxygen improves things a bit. Part is familiarity - it looks a bit like the KDE Diamonds iconset for KDE4 - but mostly due to having colored icons. I don’t have a monochrome monitor since the early 90’s, and IMHO there’s not much sense in dismissing the recognizable dimension that color provides.
Now I know this is all a question of taste, there are no absolutes, only opinions, so fingers crossed not to start a flame war here.
After maybe a decade of “flat” icons,
The discussion continues.
For those who aren’t Developers,
It might be useful to know the <reasoning> for flat layouts as opposed to the older “shaded” objects rather than opine based only on “whatever feels right” which would be entirely personal and subjective (No two people are guaranteed to “feel” the same about the same thing).
Flat Desktop icons aren’t the only objects that are “flat,”
A Desktop “flat” layout will also typically include
Full screen applications
No windows can be placed partially under or over another, leaving a corner visible. If more than one application is visible, then they should be displayed side by side.
The full Flat Layout came about because of the idea of a Universal Display that would be used on physical devices with tiny as well as large displays, and the smaller the screen is, it’s possible that the resolution isn’t fine enough to display shading properly. Without a very high resolution, on tiny displays shaded objects become muddied blobs. Eliminating shading results in lines with sharp boundaries, rendered better even on low resolution displays.
And, for those Desktops that want to be truly universal and support screens of all sizes and shapes, you’ll also see…
Everything is centered.
Objects on the screen will “flow” automatically re-positioning if the screen size or layout doesn’t accommodate the original position of the objects.
Elimination of fixed position objects like the Application Launcher button and menus that fold out or fly out
For those running on x86/x64 machines, almost any layout can be installed.
If running on an ARM with a single or limited number of cores, it’s almost a “must” to run a mobile layout as described.
Despite the “advantages” of a Flat Layout to accommodate the widest variety of hardware used today, it’s still a significant visual change that a lot of people don’t like. One of the Desktops available on openSUSE curiously pushes new boundaries of GUI design by allowing configuration options for both strong texturing and a mobile layout, I’d recommend experimenters try Enlightenment.
I don’t know if I would want the flat layouts set as default, but I wouldn’t mind if options to set those might be made more prominent during a new install, eg with its own pattern which can be selected during Install.