How will Skeuomorphic design fare in 2013?

Posted on January 30, 2013

According to legend, Steve Jobs had the interface of the iPad’s calendar application modelled on the type of leather he had in his private plane. Whether or not this is true, it speaks to a design concept called Skeuomorphism.

What is Skeuomorphism?

Skeuomorphic design is the concept of taking design patterns from one context and placing them in another. For example, you can take the design of a book in the physical world, and then add page turns to an electronic version.

Some hold the opinion that skeuomorphic design is good for users because it gives them something to relate to. If you already fully understand how an object works in one world, you can apply the same clues into another world. In our example of a book, because you understand how a page-turn works in the physical world, you’ll be able to move to a new page in the digital world by using an electronic page turn.

Detractors of skeuomorphism in the digital world, and there are many, believe that it brings in unnecessary design complexity. Because the digital world is not the same as the physical world, objects and concepts need to be built to be optimal for the digital world. If we return to our book example, turning digital pages is not optimal on a tablet, but perpetual scrolling works much better.

The Future of Skeuomorphic Design

Steve Jobs liked skeuomorphic design, and many examples of it can be found in design throughout Apple. The best and worst example is the calendar application with Steve’s Corinthian leather and a slow and cumbersome page turn animation. Many of Apple’s best fans disliked this and wish it to be gone.

In late 2012, Apple announced that Jonny Ive, will be taking over software design at Apple. Ive is know for his clean model hardware designs. There has been no hints of skeumorphism in his design, so we can expect a new language to permeate throughout Apples applications. Expect, in 2013, for some of the worst offenders to be replaced.

Apple’s lead can be expected to be replicated elsewhere. In the very least, given the bad press that skeuomorphism has received, very few application designers can be expected to create such designs.

That being said, not all skeuomorphism is bad. It can be fun when applied well. Take Apple’s Podcast application. Once a podcast is playing, you can see a reel to reel tape-player in the background. Hence when it’s fun, doesn’t get in the way of user visually or in what they want to accomplish, then why not?