Apple’s reveal of its new iOS7 operating system last week was accompanied by widespread predictions about the demise of skeuomorphic design. That, in turn, led many outside the digital design and marketing world to ask, “What the heck is skeuomorphic design?”
In a nutshell, Skeuomorphism refers to a design principle generally employed in user interfaces that take cues from the physical world. Apple pioneered skeuomorphism with the introduction of the Macintosh and the design of the machine’s desktop, files and folders.
Skeuomorphism has its benefits. When Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) were introduced and marketed for home use, Apple and Microsoft wanted their customers to be familiar with their computers. So, the computers used desktop, files, folders and trash bin — all real-world items. Even applications like the calculator took cues from the physical world to avoid confusing users.
Other interesting uses of skeuomorphism in application user interfaces have come from Apple, where color and texture has mimicked the look of note paper, stitching and LCD displays.
Is there a need for skeumorphism in modern user interfaces? The short answer is “Yes”.
Microsoft’s release of Windows 8 in late-2012 signified a move toward “flat” design. Although flat design strips away 3D effects, Windows 8 has not removed skeumorphic elements entirely. A scissor icon may represent cutting. A blank page icon may represent a new document.
Apple’s iOS7 includes the most significant changes to the user interface since its introduction with the iPhone in 2007. The new design is decidedly flatter and fundamentally different than any user interface we’ve seen. And it’s not likely we’ll see leather-bound notebook textures and page-flipping simulations in this new interface.
However, there will always be a need to relate real-world actions to user interfaces. What would we call “Copy & Paste” without skeumorphism? Skeuomorphism is more than mimicking physical items and textures; it’s a way to familiarize users with a new device or technology.
What do you think? Flat design removes clutter, but does that make it better? Share your thoughts in the comments.