Skeuomorphism is a design element that is based on an existing form (or other elements) that the new design copies. An example of this in the physical world are those annoying electric candles that some cheap restaurants are using as the candles are designed to look like wax-burning ones. In the digital world skeuomorphism is often used to show a connection between a digital tool and it’s analog equivalent – like how a calculator app looks like a physical calculator.
This approach is not always a smart one.
Apple has got a lot of flak for using skeuomorphism in their recent iOS releases. Just take a look at this image:
There is a big debate amongst Apple followers whether the introduction of Jony Ive into the iOS world will stop the over use of the physical world in digital design. Well, I don’t know if it’s so much a debate as it is people railing on Apple’s recent design decisions. At The Verge they’ve collected designs of Mountain Lion without skeuomorphism.
Recently, one of the people at Realmac Software wrote a long blog post on skeuomorphism and it’s worth looking at if you’re new to the design issue or just care about digital design.
Here’s a snippet from the post:
Looking at the two sides, there are pros and cons to using skeuomorphism, but looking from my personal view, I think that the application’s visuals are one of the major factors in shaping its overall user experience. As a designer, I think that the app should look good, and this contributes a great deal to the user as they are using your app. Graphical elements of the apps should be artistically accurate, respecting things like consistency in colour or even a light source for button shadows and highlights. Textures shouldn’t be in your face and distracting the user from the main content. Compare the images of iBooks and Contacts above. One of those mimics exactly how a book would appear if it were viewed top down, whilst the other looks flat and unrealistic. On the other hand, getting all these things right and creating a good-looking app just isn’t enough, it needs to be sound interaction wise, as previously mentioned. We’re incredibly passionate at Realmac about good design and are all firm believers of Dieter Rams’ Ten Principles of Good Design and its strong relevance to user interface design. It’s no secret that Jony Ive and his industrial design team at Apple are fans of this too and many people are expecting this design ethic to be brought over to iOS and OS X after the recent management shakeup in Cupertino.