Skeuomorphism vs flat design: 0-1

What is Skeuomorphism anyway?

Scewomo-what?? No need to remember this thorny word, because as fast as it took over the design world in 2007, it is already on its decline. Anno 2013 people are starting to embrace a new design concept.

Skeuomorphism means using the design of concepts inherent to an old technology as input for the implementation of a new design.

Most people associate skeuomorphism with Apple products. Just consider the Calculator, Clock, Calendar or Newsstand on your Iphone; they are all digital illustrations of their real-world counterparts. But not only these obvious recognizable components stand out, the subtle movements in the images act as if they are physical products. Originally these ‘old’ designs were used to evoke a sense of familiarity to the user when encountering a new concept or app online. Thanks to Apple’s (read: Steve Jobs’) objective to make a user-friendly design, this has been the look of Apple software for years. Its hardware on the other hand was designed by Jony Ive for the past two decades, a British industrial designer that values a functional and clean look. This combination has made Apple’s look of products world-renowned and extremely popular. A perfect fit.

But times have changed. As many of you know, there has been some shake-up in Apple’s executive positions back in 2012; with as a result that Jony Ive is now responsible for both the software and hardware of Apple. The ultimate result of this decision has been unveiled yesterday. Launched 18 September 2013, Apple has shown an entirely different look, the flat user interface of its 7th mobile operating system (iOS7). Flat design takes out the graphical look of different textures and strips away all the non-functional elements thereby making it a more minimalistic and clean design. But whereas skeuomorphism limited creativity, flat design fosters it by thinking of new ways to represent elements. Not only Apple is embracing the flat design, Windows is following this trend suit with its Metro design in Windows 8.

First opinions have called the flat user interface minimalistic and childish, while others love it. Nonetheless, if it will make skeuomorphism redundant is yet to be seen, for the moment being people are obsessed with its design-counterpart. Don’t forget that the discussion can be extended beyond Apple or Windows to mechanical vs electronic wristwatches, dashboard elements in a car, the traditional look of a house, etc.

What do you think? Should skeuomorphism disappear entirely?

Flat vs Skeuomorphic

PS: if you wonder who was crazy enough to think of this word: skeuomorph is derived from the Greek; skeuos (container or tool) and morphe (shape).

Caroline Massart



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3 responses to “Skeuomorphism vs flat design: 0-1”

  1. 373132rk says :

    While I personally love the flat UI design trend in recent months and years, there are some problems that have risen due to wrong use and bad design. Most of these problems have to do with usability.

    Let me start off by saying that a good design shouldn’t rely on fancy effects or nice graphics. While they certainly help to make a page more enjoyable to look at, they’re never a replacement for a good basis. Design should start with the building blocks, the layout, the hierarchy and structure. A good design should guide a user through the content and should be unobtrusive, intuitive and unambiguous. Every element should have a clear function and goal.

    This is achievable in both skeumorphic and flat design, but is definitely more difficult in flat design. The picture of the buttons you posted is a great example. While the flat switch is more modern, the skeuomorphic button is faster to identify and gets the idea across more effectively (although maybe not more efficiently). In the end it’s all about the user being able to navigate the content as quickly and painlessly as possible and using familiar patterns are a great way to do this. It just so happens that real-world items are very familiar to us and are easily identified.

    While this is very much possible with flat design, it’s much more difficult. Not only because of the unknown design patterns people have to recognize, but also because the underlying structure is more exposed. This means that designs that aren’t that good will stand out more. We’re seeing this already with quickly designed or converted flat designs that sacrifice quality and ease of use just to follow the trend.

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