If you’ve ever used any Apple product, you’ve experienced skeuomorphic design. Skeuomorphism is a design technique, where a design element mimics real world objects. Users find skeuomorphic design more intuitive as virtual interfaces emulate real life elements. For example – Apple’s Newsstand looks like a real life Newsstand.
Other examples – stitched leather, linen backgrounds, glass, paper textures, brushed metal, yellow legal pad design of Notepad etc. It’s not just objects, even their behavior has been ported. Did you like the way e-books peeled away like a real book when flipped? If you like skeuomorphic design, you’re in good company, Steve Jobs favored it too.
In defense of skeuomorphic design
Steve Jobs and Scott Forstall (the ousted Apple SVP) mastered skeuomorphism and used it extensively on iOS. There was a reason behind why they introduced this design technique and tried to promote it extensively – familiarity. When iOS first arrived back in 2007 it was the magic of skeuomorphic design that made users get instantly familiar with the iOS.
The other (and flatter) side of the coin
While users have typecasted skeuomorphism with Apple, minimalism is gaining relevance especially by the competitors who have embraced it and made it their own.
Google for example – Jelly Bean is such a breath of fresh air. It seems to have found the perfect balance between skeuomorphism and flat design. Now that more Holo themed apps are coming to Android, you can see that Google surely has taken note:
Google Now’s flat and minimalistic design Vs. Siri’s linen, metal design
Microsoft’s Modern UI (Metro) is all about flat design too. They have embraced minimalism, flat colors, simple shapes and are heavily influenced by clever typography to find that sweet balance and make things look pretty.
iOS to be revamped?
Apple is synonymous with design innovation and gorgeous pixels. Maybe it’s the designer in me talking, but has Apple taken skeuomorphism too far? Sir Jonathan Ive, the legendary design guru feels so. Ive’s industrial design ethos has always been about removing the unnecessary. Knighted for his contributions to industrial design, all Apple products bear the stamp of his design vision. As an ode to minimalism, he stripped complexity to create elegant, intuitive Apple products and we know what he’s capable of. With him at the helm of things at the Human Interface (HI) group, expect things to change in iOS, probably with less skeuomorphism.
Apple could also go the Microsoft way of introducing a completely new design language. Microsoft did garner a lot of praise from critics and Windows loyalists for the Modern UI. If Apple were to do that, will there be a backlash from the Apple fanboys? Or will they accept anything from Apple, like they always do.
Does this mean it’s the end of skeuomorphic design? No, we probably just had an overdose of it and like any trend, it might make a comeback. Having said that, flat design is probably going to be abused by designers and a day might come when we will all be sick and tired of minimalistic design and might want to switch to good old realism just like how retro designs made a comeback not so long ago.
I’m ending with an open question because we should wait and watch for the next chapter in design to unfold, which will be very interesting indeed. Until then, let the dribbblers have some fun!