What is skeuomorphic design?

Apple’s iOS was revolutionary when it arrived on the iPhone in 2007

Because there was nothing like it–the combination of touch hardware and gesture software was amazing. Apple has kept the OS evolving ever since, introducing new features like the powerful Siri system all the time. A recent blog post caught our eye as it mentioned the word skeuomorphic…

From Fast Company … Apple iOS also introduced unpopular aspects like skeuomorphic designs, and the OS seen as a complete package is no longer the leading-edge item it once was. Apple, aware of this, fired its head of mobile Scott Forstall in late 2012 and placed its chief designer Jon Ive in overall charge of software design too.

So just what is skeuomorphic?

If you’ve ever used an Apple product, you’ve experienced digital skeuomorphic design: calendars with faux leather-stitching, bookshelves with wood veneers, fake glass and paper and brushed chrome. Skeuomorphism is a catch-all term for when objects retain ornamental elements of past, derivative iterations–elements that are no longer necessary to the current objects’ functions.

In software, skeuomorphism can be traced back to the visual metaphors designers created to translate on-screen applications before users were accustomed to interacting with computer software: virtual folders to store your documents, virtual Rolodexes to store contacts. But over time, skeuomorphism has seeped into all areas of UI design, especially in Apple’s software, where text documents, for example, are made to look like yellow legal pads and electronic books live on pine bookcases.

Apple iPad book case

So now you know.

Now fresh rumors from 9to5Mac.com say that Ive is leading iOS 7 (the next version of the mobile OS that will be on this year’s new iPhones and iPads) in a new direction that’s “very, very flat.” Multiple sources have told the website that iOS 7’s design will be much simpler and cleaner than iOS 6, with a level of “flatness” that may even approach Microsoft’s Metro mobile OS–which is made of simple blocks of color and clear typography.

This flatness means skeuomorphism may be completely banished, and it may also mean that certain sub-systems or settings in the OS which are currently buried deeply beneath layers of menus and drop-down lists will be more accessible.

With WWDC in June we expect a preview of iOS7 that may well bump skeuomorphism from Apple mobile products. We will soon see.



One thought on “What is skeuomorphic design?

  1. taybridge

    As expected WWDC shows iOS7 with a complete redesign. Wood, leather and glass all gone.

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