Skeuomorphic design

I have no idea if this Fast Company Design article is true - because Apple isn't exactly the most chatty company outside their own walls - but I hope it's right, and I hope the anti-skeuomorphic camp wins.

What’s skeuomorphism? If you’ve ever used an Apple product, you’ve experienced digital skeuomorphic design: calendars with faux leather-stitching, bookshelves with wood veneers, fake glass and paper and brushed chrome. Skeuomorphism is a catch-all term for when objects retain ornamental elements of past, derivative iterations--elements that are no longer necessary to the current objects’ functions.

The apps I hate the most - from a design perspective - are all from Apple:

  • Podcasts, which also has a bad cognitive door-slam between the skeuomorphic bits and the stock iOS bits.
  • Find my friends
  • Calendar on the iPad (iPhone is fine), as well as Contacts and Reminders.
  • Voice Memos is tolerable, but only just.

All of them try to look like something from the real world, and to me, it makes them ugly, because they are NOT that real world thing - and usually, I've mentally moved on from the thing they are trying to look like (esp Podcasts). I'm nearly 40, and I hardly remember tape players (tho I did have one).

Contrast that with some of the least skeuomorphic apps around:

All of these exhibit lovely, consistent and above all, modern designs. They look like they belong on the tiny super-computer that lives in my pocket. They are apps I go back to and am inspired by, where as the Apple ones are.... not.

There are a few places where it does work however:

  • Calculator looks like a calculator, but there again, those haven't really changed in 30 years.
  • Clock is a nice balance, but again, it's something of which the real-world thing hasn't changed its design much in a long time.
  • Compass, which is ridiculously single-use. Also, a compass from 100 years ago looks much like they do today, Garmin's not withstanding.
  • The iBooks bookstand is ok, but the Kindle "list of books" is just as good, and I usually have iBooks switched into list mode anyway.

So, I hope this trend doesn't continue. Apple have updated the look of a lot of their apps in iOS6, and in general, they have avoided any skeuomorphic design, so maybe there is some hope.

(If nothing else, I can now mostly type skeuomorphic without looking at the keyboard....)

Nic Wise

Nic Wise

Auckland, NZ