Case study: skeuomorphism design, is it cool or dead?


We all know the impressing competition between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates; it was, and it’s not wrong to say that it is, the most interesting dispute between two human beings. Unlike other competitions, there were no victims; the competition gave birth to two heroes and everyone benefits from the “results of the battle”. Some months ago, a new debate started amongst web designers: is it skeuomorphism a dead design? Is flat design the new winner?

It’s true, there are many people involved in the evolution of skeuomorphism and flat design, but it seems another front of Jobs-Gates battle.


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Unfortunately, the term skeuomorphism is wrongly interpreted and as long the premises are wrong, the conclusions can’t be correct. Not scientifically, but very pragmatically, skeuomorphism is the term that describes the idea of recreating the look of an object. The common people heard about this term from another hot debate- the faux textures used by Apple designers in some apps as Newsstand. The specialists don’t fully understand why Apple chose these textures, but it is not the purpose of this article. Anyway, Paula wrote here a nice article about skeuomorphism and she has a remarkable comment: this type of design doesn’t refer only to the texture of an item, but also to the shape and functionality. There is no camera phone that doesn’t mimic the shutter sound of a conventional camera; it is another form of skeuomorphism- it is an imitation of the functionality.

Even if people seem to have something against this type of design, it has its advantages:

1- Skeuomorphism = better usability

The human universe is 3D, everyone is keen to this structure and a 2D universe, as predominantly the Internet is, sometimes is difficult to manage. Imitating the real entities helps a lot in faster understanding the purposes of a design and the adepts of skeuomorphism are highlighting this aspect as vital in their creations. Using skeuomorphic elements makes the use of the apps\websites more intuitive and it is advantageous both for creators and users. It’s simple, the users are satisfied because they don’t waste time searching for what they need, they don’t need to suit to a new graphic interface while the designers of the apps/websites receive good feedback from the users.

2- Skeuomorphic elements generate more easier emotions and states

It’s logical: the users are more adapted to the design and the connection user-design is much stronger. Take the example of a Dj-ing application: the DJ has his tools, vinils, CDs etc and he is used to a specific interface…that is not perfect but he knows well where the buttons are located. Well, an app that looks the same surely will be appreciated by the DJ; he will instantly know how to use it. (there is another problem, the respective app must be a quality product, a nice interface that does nothing is a useless app and nothing more).

Obvious, this style has his downsides; here are the most commented ones:

1. Skeuomorphic interfaces lack any creativity

The opponents of skeuomorphic interfaces accuse the lack of creativity. They say that designing only skeuomorphic items, the designers are turning into painters or imitators, while clearly the principles of design are different.

2. Skeuomorphic is deprecated

Honestly, I am not a great lover of this type of design, but I really appreciate the good creations, no matter their styles. Nowadays, the designers were influenced by the huge success of Apple products and created too many skeuomorphic design…somehow people are sick with this style.

Briefly, is skeuomorphic wrong or should be dead?

Personally, I don’t think that any style may be wrong, bad or ugly. A minimalist design is good or bad due to the effective construction and this isn’t awesome or decent simply because it is minimalist. The same with skeuomorphic…a style can’t be wrong; instead a project can be bad. The real problem of this style consists in two main points:

1- It is overused

As I said, Steve Jobs and Apple are the brands associated with skeuomorphic design and it instantly functioned as a magnet. In just two-three years, lots of designs were influenced by the Apple preferences and everywhere were skeuomorphic elements and it was only a matter of time until people will become bored with these. Scott Forstall was the Apple responsive with iOS design and once he left the company, the experts are considering that is probable to see a fresh air in Apple design, quite probable meaning to give up to skeuomorphism. I am almost sure that it won’t be a radical movement but who knows? (simple, the answer is in the great mind of Jonathan Ive, the new responsible for Apple design).

2-  Skeuomorphic 100% is great design, skeuomorphic 99% is extremely poor design

People have a very clear idea about every object around us and poor online imitations “hurt the brain”. Under these circumstances there are two situations:

  • The skeuomorphic item is perfectly describing the reality (and not only the texture!!!) and it is a huge chance to be appreciated by people and the design community;
  • The item lacks very small details and surely will be people that would notice these and the verdict is: bad design.

In conclusion

You shouldn’t be afraid that skeuomorphism will disappear; it is very probable that designers will stop this influence. Due to the recent successes of Microsoft, it’s not a surprise to see a shift to flat design, as long as they are the adepts of flatness. Therefore, any designer shouldn’t be worried, as long as their creations are quality, surely people and critics will appreciate these. The styles are many, but the beauty of design is unique!

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