September 11, 2012
Love it or hate it, skeuomorphism isn't likely to vanish from mobile application design anytime soon. According to Co.Design, it may be the "elephant in the room" for Apple, whose Calendar, Game Center and Notes apps are considered by many to be a blight on the otherwise amazingly innovative graphical user interface design of iOS. Whether or not skeuomorphism will have a negative effect on Apple's future sales is yet to be seen, but it is certainly beginning to have a negative effect on iOS' image.
Skeuomorphism is a simple concept, in which GUI design takes on the characteristics of an app's retro, physical counterpart. iCal's faux-leather look, Newsstands' bookshelf appearance and Game Center's felt table and dice are all picturesque examples of this trend. The real question for app developers is whether it is a trend worth continuing.
According to the news source, it may not be. One former senior UI designer at Apple who worked closely with former CEO Steve Jobs compared the design philosophy with "muscle flexing," asking who really cares about it. Another inside source reported that iCal's faux-leather design work was even based off the interior of Job's personal Gulfstream jet.
"There was lots of internal email among UI designers at Apple saying this was just embarrassing, just terrible," the source told Co.Design.
Some businesses and designers may wonder what is so "bad" about skeuomorphism. The question isn't so much what is wrong with it, but why it diminishes design work. Many developers at Apple, according to the news source, feel that the trend has "significantly degraded the user experience."
Yves Béhar, founder of fuseproject, has noted that visual metaphor in UI has bothered him for some time.
"The digital bookshelf doesn’t really work like a bookshelf," Béhar told the news source, referring to Apple's iBook app. "You’re throwing all this extraneous visual noise at me and it’s confusing. My brain, which is used to the physical bookshelf, is confused because of the differences in usability. It’s cute, but not particularly useful."
Whether or not skeuomorphism is still a relevant design philosophy may be up for question, but businesses should consider its implications on usability and the overall user experience before embracing it. Steve Jobs may have loved the idea of making the digital experience look like the physical one, but that doesn't mean it isn't time to move on from it.