Skeuomorphic or not

With the introduction of iOS 7 Apple, now that Steve Jobs and Scott Forstall are both gone, has taken a huge leap to becoming Non-Skeuomorphic in their user interfaces.

I am working with a client that has found an “interface designer” and wants to move toward this type of UI look and feel.

Has anybody had any experience or any opinions on Skeuomorphism either pro or con?



All the market is going towards the flat-design pattern (anti-skeu, simplistic but meaningful style), this includes even Apple now, after Google and Microsoft.

Going Skeu now could be interpreted by some as coming to a party and saying “Hey! Am I late for the party?” and all your friends are already drunk, the food is over, and they are going home.

But… Doing a great flat design is much harder than a skeuomorphic one.

Once again, do the best interface with the tools you have. If you only have a “skeuomorphic driven designer”… Well let’s go.

Has your experience indicated that one or the other is “better”? And I know “better” is subjective but do you have any “objective” reasons other than “that is what the designer says”?

I do agree that a flat design is probably harder to communicate to the user any subtle differences because of the absence of some visual queues. (i.e. no visual “buttons” just words that invoke action when clicked, etc.)

I don’t see a very clear advantage/disadvantage of any, but renowned designers are advising to follow flat design.

There are some designers the love skeu, but I see a trend. If you can follow the trend, you are updated, otherwise, outdated.

And making a flat design does not mean bad icons.

Yep … gotta’ line up with the world.

But … A little like sitting by a Fashion Show Runway in Paris. Short skirts and Earth tones one year and long skirts and pastel colors the next. Is there any clear advantage? Probably not but it does force change.

I sort of feel like this is one of those things that was not “broken” but now we have to fix it.

And you are correct that a good flat design is harder than a Skeuomorphic one. I have a few “first attempts” on my iPhone and the visual clues are not as obvious.

Thanks for the feedback and more by others is welcome.

On one hand, I’d say “dress for the occasion”. On the other hand, I’d say, “look to the web for inspiration”. Users do just fine with a whole range of designs on websites they frequent. They can surely handle nonconforming looks in apps provided the controls and flow are intuitive. I’ve always felt that the coat of paint should be just that, a coat of paint. When it begins being functional, problems arise.

[quote=38983:@Mark Strickland]Yep … gotta’ line up with the world.

But … A little like sitting by a Fashion Show Runway in Paris. Short skirts and Earth tones one year and long skirts and pastel colors the next. Is there any clear advantage? Probably not but it does force change.
For the fashion folks - new sales :stuck_out_tongue:
For iOS etc think about how many folks using them are <30 and for which the icon for the phone is one they look at & think it’s odd - they may never have used a phone that has a handset like the one shown
Skeuomorphic design may bring both cultural & age biases along with it.
A flat design may be able to avoid / remove those (although so far iOS still has those in places

I just read the link at and it is a valid point that we should think about design. I guess I am an “old *%#$” and I thought I always did write business apps with workflow in mind. I also thought trying to animate with some cool effect from one screen to another was just “mindless eye candy” to provide “entertainment value” to an application. But the market place will be the final judge.

Over the last 10 years I have developed and supported a very complex pharmacy app (not built in XOJO). The industry forced lots of complexity into the process, like it takes 200+ data fields to send an insurance claim. All of the 200+ were pre-calculated by the system but the ability to override had to be present for EVERY field. Some of the users were older pharmacists that use old very clunky applications on “dumb monochrome terminals” prior to mine. I used lots of color on the screen and made it very much keyboard centric if you desired to use those features. The shear amount of screen work make going back and forth from two hand typing and back to a mouse more time consuming but you could do that if you wanted. Various functions were grouped in color rectangles on the screen and without using the mouse the field to field tab order (that also worked with the ENTER key as well) was carefully crafted to follow the thinking of the typical user workflow.

The original app did not start with color grouping on the screen of various parts of the workflow. When I added colored rectangles around various fields and buttons the general consensus was an intuitive sense of how various functions were grouped began to appear and training new users was easier. First do the things in the “Yellow Box” then the “Purple Box”. The buttons were color coded so to commit an action was one color and cancel was always another.

I will shut up now but for me it seems that is has become a marketing feature to show an app must be better than the competition because it has better animations or other graphical features. If the underling business process is not well thought out the animation will make the app appear better to those users that are not thoughtful enough to dig below the surface. We did lots of good work years ago on “dumb terminals” and being GUI does not ensure it is actually better. I will admit that the “ultimate app” is the one that PROPERLY incorporates both.

Just the opinions of an “old *%#$”.

My 2 pennies worth. The original version of iRehearse I created with a skeuomorphic design. As it was for musicians, it was designed to emulate audio hardware. I had a lot of good comments from customers saying they found it really easy to use etc., however from my point of view, maintaining the app became a bit of a nightmare. This is why I moved away from skeuomorphic design for the next version.

The problem I find with skeuomorphic design is that it takes too much time to update or add features to the interface. Every element you place on the screen has to be built almost from the ground up and if you need to rearrange the interface or increase its size it often requires a lot of graphic design work. I was spending more time recreating existing UI elements in my skeuomorphic design, or adjusting the whole interface just to add a small element, rather than spending time working on the coding of new features. Using native UI elements, or a flat design that is easily resized, makes updating an app far easier IMHO.

I’m not a big fan of flat, gotten used to it on the iPhone, but don’t want to work with flat on a big screen. However as a developer, I’m torn between doing what I want to do and doing what the market wants.


You hit it for me.

[quote]I’m not a big fan of flat, gotten used to it on the iPhone, but don’t want to work with flat on a big screen. However as a developer, I’m torn between doing what I want to do and doing what the market wants.

Right or wrong the market will drive this but I still am a little stuck on one detail: Steve Jobs. He drove some of the skeuomorphic slant on the iPhone design. If there ever was a genius on the planet for consumer product design it was Steve, so who am I to argue he was wrong. And yes the ability to incorporate skeuomorphism was not his only talent in consumer product design so maybe he would have evolved more himself over time but we will never know.

The market will prevail but maybe some of my own opinions and a few of Steve’s can still be accommodated.

Why does it have to be one or the other? Why not neither? 1Password 4 just shipped, it is gorgeous, and neither. Why force yourself into one of these two trends?

[quote=39081:@Thom McGrath]Why does it have to be one or the other? Why not neither? 1Password 4 just shipped, it is gorgeous, and neither. Why force yourself into one of these two trends?

Exactly. Do your thing. Be true to you. You can make a really comfortable living at this stuff before you have to resort to trendiness for its own sake.

Skeuo designs are helpful when a software paradigm is new. 30 years ago, an address book app that looks like a Rolodex™ helped people new to computers feel comfortable right away. Now pretty much everyone understands basic lists, search fields, and databases. There’s no need for the visual clutter of an outdated physical representations. Clean simple design, white space, and typographic are Zen. Ironic, since Steve Jobs was big into those things, yet also dug Skeuo to a hideous fault at times (green felt Game Center app).

But as Thom said, there are degrees. For example in most recording studio apps, they still try for a realistic mixing board metaphor (for example the vertical faders in Logic Pro). While some other apps may use a flat design and simple lines – but it’s still a flat representation of an old-school mixing board! In other words, going flat may only be “skin deep” vs. a true rethinking of the workflow. In this regard, GarageBand is actually more forward thinking than Logic Pro, given the fader and mixing controls are along the left side within each track, rather than below in a separate mixer view with vertical faders. Whether one idea is better is debatable, but most “pros” are so used to their traditional physical mixer layouts, they’d reject the unified GarageBand mixer/track view.

Form follows function - or the reverse. This dispute between UI designers and developers lasts as long as I can think. In my opinion, form IS a function.

mmm I would say, the one who’s paying the bill, decides what matters :wink:

In my opinion Skeuomorphism is not dead, it is still helpful for children or older ones in situations where complexity of background-processes meet User Interface. Sometimes abstract flat-design can be distractive and may lead in losing the big picture. For my self I am not happy about every “improvement” in iOS and I know a lot of people feeling the same. But we all get used to it and that’s important: “to get used” to something. Your software will hardly become accepted by clients or customers when it changes too many known UI elements or breaks completly with known procedures.

Just one example where Skeuomorphism was better than “Flat-Design”:

I’ve done a contact management app in which a contact could have a pool of many different addresses. But only one address could be assigned “as role” for Invoicing, Delivery or as private Address. First I’ve done a “flat design” in simply showing a list and with marking and pressing a button, you could assign it to a role. Nobody understood the process why he/she should assign a “role” and the UI either. Later I got a lot of tickets and reported error messages, that the software did not know which address it should use for invoices.

So I decided to use Skeuomorphism to simplify this. In using empty address cards, everybody understood, that these address cards have to be filled with an address. And this is simply done with Drag and Drop, voila. Everybody was happy, everybody understood the process.

Apple recreates its UI on a regular basis, and then turns around and tries to patent or trademark whatever new design they come up with. That’s much easier to do when you have an abstract symbol that doesn’t recreate a real world object (that’s either not protectable or owned by someone else).

There have always been inherent problems with utilizing real world analogs because those can vary widely between target markets because those objects may vary. But thats always been a problem and Apple’s always been aware of it, even when SJ wasn’t around.

You need to take into account your target market, and not what Apple does. There was a time when you could target “mac users”, but now that’s not such a strange and unique type of banana fish anymore to target.

If you are creating business applications, target the familiar. Remember when MS introduced the ribbon? That also introduced l lots and lots of retraining that corporations didn’t want to pay for - if you confuse your potential users then you just run a higher risk that they won’t get beyond your demo.