Skeuomorphism in UI: an outdated concept nowadays…or not?

Filippo
Filippo
Jul 13, 2018 · 4 min read

Skeuomorphism. Nice word, huh? But what the hell does it mean?
People still ask me all the time. But why? It’s an outdated concept nowadays…or not?

The context

Skeuomorphism is a common term in UI design and describes the ability of an interface object to mimic its counterpart in the real-world in appearance and how users can interact with the object itself.
A typical example is the floppy disk icon on the save button. This little element has the power to make interface objects familiar and easily recognisable by our users.

Skeuomorphism in real-world

Like the Skeuomorphic objects, the Skeuomorphism concept itself has a parallel to the real world, and it’s called “affordance”.
The term “affordance” was originally coined by psychologist James J. Gibson in his 1966 book, The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems.

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Affordance in real world

The most famous examples of affordance are push, or slide buttons and door handles. The design of these objects suggests to their users how to interact, so the next action to take is predictable and expected: they can be pushed, dragged or rotated and the objects themselves promote a natural interaction.

Key to iOS UI success

The concept is easy nowadays, but it wasn’t in the early days of computing.
In the early versions of Apple OSs (like MacOS and iPhoneOS), skeuomorphism was heavily adopted (realistic objects, glossy finishing, polaroid style pictures, real-like buttons, scrollbars, etc.) by the Apple UI designers.

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Apple iOS 6 Audio Recorder app

It was spoiled even by the third party developers (leather panels with stitches, paper-like apps, app icons, etc.). And the success and diffusion of iOS UI are founded mainly on top of this vision, especially for touch-enabled devices.

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One of the most beautiful app icon out there. Realisti wood icon

Skeuomorphism is dead

But like a love story, it comes to an end. Apple announced iOS 7 at the annual WWDC on June 10, 2013 (and released on September 18). Apple then endorsed flat UI design elements, moving away from the skeuomorphic design.

iOS 6 (left) vs. iOS 7 home screens

The time was ripe enough, the skeuomorphism was no longer necessary.

Right after Apple, in 2014 Google released its Material Design. It was a whole new design language for Android based on flat design principles (+ a little set of skeuomorphic elements).

Long live skeuomorphism

Today we know that cognitive friction is a source of user frustration and the pure flat design is not the (only) answer.

Skeuomorphism and flat design can exist at the same time but for different purposes.

The new skeuomorphism incorporate a new level of mimics such as animation, motion, and physical properties. UI elements behave physically like real objects (gravity, elasticity and other physical laws).

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Travel app by Dimest

Today though, the appearance are stylised rather than photorealistic in a sort of a Skeuomorph-flat Design. UI elements still have the task of reproducing the real familiar objects today in a flat sauce.

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Smart Home Application by Alexandr M.

Google Nest app is another great and inspiring example.

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Nest Thermostat + App by Google

Take away

Skeuomorphism is no more an outdated concept, and no, it is not dead at all. It’s more relevant today than ever even though with a modern flat approach. Latest devices are powerful and can manage efficiently incredible micro-interactions and animations. Will Skeuomorphism be again the key player in the UI Design future?

Sources
https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/skeuomorphism
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affordance
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_design
The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems

Filippo Camillo Scrapbook

This is meant to be a scrapbook for ideas, thoughts and…

Filippo

Written by

Filippo

UX designer and iOS Developer

Filippo Camillo Scrapbook

This is meant to be a scrapbook for ideas, thoughts and experiences around the UX, UI and Mobile Products world. Find more on www.filippocamillo.com

Filippo

Written by

Filippo

UX designer and iOS Developer

Filippo Camillo Scrapbook

This is meant to be a scrapbook for ideas, thoughts and experiences around the UX, UI and Mobile Products world. Find more on www.filippocamillo.com

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