Is it already a relic of the past? A bit tacky and outdated concept in design might not be lost for ever. Though overused by a company that devices mostly begin with “i” the concept of skeuomorphism may not be completely faulty and worthless. Like all approaches it has some advantages and disadvantages that will be explored in this article.
Why? What? And what is this skeu…something?
If someone is interested in linguistic information the word skeuomorph comes from the Greek language and is consisting of two words skeuos standing for a container or tool and morphe that stands for shape. As you may presume the term was not primarily used in reference to user interface design but was rather used while talking about material objects.
However let’s think about design as such and skeuomorphism as related to applications and user interfaces. It might be put simply that skeuomorph is a design of an object, application, which purpose is to resemble the authentic object, be it a calculator, or a diary. In this way skeuomorphs are real-like-elemnts in the digital world.
Skeuomorphic design – examples
One might think than beside Apple’s iOS and applications design for the operating system there is not much of skeuomorphic design on the web. But you will have to reconsider your opinion because you can find quite a number of such concept in design on the web. Nonetheless, it is more or less true that Steve Jobs loved the real and pushed to design apps with close resemblance to their real look.
When I think about skeuomorpic-related design I mostly consider programmes like DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). Some of them are designed to look like real studio. Amps and plugins at times look like real racks where you can put, organize and manage your effects, equalizers and so on.
Look at this simple example. These are so called Rack Extensions by Propeller Reason. You could think that you are in a very rich studio.
Even when you look at beats and loops or at synthesizers they closely resemble their real-life counterparts.
So we may assume that DAW programmes, various plug-ins and virtual instruments still prefer skeuomorphic design. The reason is rather simple. As an amateur musician I may say that I like to work on things that look familiar. Then I basically know hot to take up the job without reading the manual.
Another example of skeuomorphic design will be strictly Apple-realated. iBooks look like a real life shelve with books nothing more to add.
This is an interesting iPhone and iPad recipe book with a clever egg timer. A nice example of skeuomorphic design.
Interesting concept of an vinyl audio player form a music lover Jordan Fulghum.
This is a very interesting concept because Derrick Snider decided to incorporate iPod into an iPhone.
If compared with current trends in web design, skeumorpism seems to be more engaging and visually richer. You may consider it tacky at times but when programmed and designed well it might be also a great advantage in times of flat and minimalistic design.
As I was writing few paragraphs earlier some skeuomorphic design fell like real thing, thus are almost instantly recognizable and one does not need any instructions to get along with an app.
You might be wondering why I am mentioning age in advantages. Consider older generation of internet and mobile users. For some of them the familiar touch of skeuomorphic design may be a great advantage as they don’t get along with current trends.
Skeuomorphic design may also convey a certain atmosphere of a blog or a website or of an app. But you have to be careful. When such design is done wrong the effect may be opposite. Instead of atmosphere of richness and luxury you may get the atmosphere of cheap and tacky.
Easy to fail
This point is strongly related to the atmosphere. Like I said earlier if done wrong it may create the feeling of tacky design. You have to consider the fact that people are really good at finding faults and bungles, so you really want to make skeuomorphic design in a good way.
Lack of usability
Despite refined and real-life look such designs may successfully hinder usability. When you design an application that looks like a real device you really want it to run like the real-life object. Otherwise, the UI, app or website will be hard to use and navigate and despite its look it might be useless.
At times you may hear opinions that skeumorphic design in a way hinders innovation because it is stubborn drilling the same interface. I am not sure what to think about it because it all depends on the app, on UI and what the app is supposed to do. You will have to figure out which app or website design concept suits you best.
I am not a strong supporter of skeumorphic design and I am not an opponent as well. I just believe that skeumorphic design does not fit to every context and that there are well designed mobile applications and website with the use of skeumorphism. If you consider it cheap and tasteless the you have an alternative in the form of flat design or minimalistic design. It is you taste and you choice that will define which concept suits your current or future project.