Humans have a tendency to feel comfortable with anything that they can relate to. This is the simple belief around which skeuomorphic design works, i.e., imitating a design in a way that it looks like its physical analog and the users feel connected.
But, with the passage of time and overwhelming technological inventions, skeuomorphic design somewhere took a back seat and is supposed to be dead.
On the contrary, a newer form of design called the “flat design” is supposed to have taken its place.
But is skeuomorphic design really dead?
Before we answer this tricky question, here’s an insight into every essential aspect of skeuomorphic design you ought to know about.
Understanding Skeuomorphic Design
Basically, if a graphical user interface design follows skeuomorphism, it means that the design imitates a widely accepted real-life object. The idea is about simulating a user experience that supports intuitive behavior.
In short, skeuomorphism is about blending real-life interpretations of objects with the virtual world. Also, it has been rightly tagged as a “perceived affordance,” i.e., a shape or structure of any object that suggests its usage.
Here’s a simple example to illustrate the skeuomorphic design practice.
The Recycle Bin —This graphical icon imitates the design of a real-life bin. Be it be its texture, the 3-D design, gradients, or its shape; the virtual bin looks like the real bin. Is it quite relatable, isn’t it?
Thus, this integration of the design of a real-life object into the world of digitization made it easier for the users to understand the purpose of the recycle bin icon.
The same goes for the digital-analog clock. If you open the “date and time” application, its design happens to be an exact replica of that of an actual clock hanging on your wall.
In the right words, a skeuomorphic web design provides a helping hand to understand the purpose of the existence of digital objects.
What isn’t Skeuomorphism?
The answer to what isn’t skeuomorphism will surely clear your doubts regarding what it actually is. Consider it as an extended explanation of this widely talked about concept.
Take an example of a “Hamburger Icon” here. Have you ever noticed the three parallel lines on a web or a mobile app interface that displays the drop-down menu upon hovering? That is exactly what is called a hamburger icon.
For a fact, there is no physical analog to this icon in real life, except its name, for of course. But, still, everyone understands its purpose and how to use it without feeling confused. This has been possible simply by getting used to the way things are and by learning to adapt to the digital interface designs.
Why Skeuomorphic Design was a Success, Initially?
According to the stats, 90 percent of information perceived by the brain happens to be visual. This one fact formed the root cause behind the popularity of the skeuomorphic design.
Coming back to the recycle bin example, a user could easily interpret the application’s purpose without scratching their heads in confusion.
A user knew that once they dragged a “waste” file into the recycle bin, it would get discarded, i.e., a similar action that anyone would perform in real life to discard a non-essential item.
But, the question is: Is the skeuomorphic design approach dead? Well, the answer is: No! Yes, you heard that right! The skeuomorphic design is an evergreen design principle that will not cease to exist irrespective of how advanced the technology gets.
Why Skeuomorphic Design Took a Backseat?
The misconception that the skeuomorphic UX design trend is dead got wings when market players like Apple and Microsoft completely gave priority to flatter UX designs. It was then that the debate on flat design vs skeuomorphic design took a front seat.
That was the time when the digital user experience went through a complete makeover. The change was not overnight but came as a consequence of changing the way designers think.
Organizations perceived the end-user audience to be smarter. The digitalization wave had made the users adapt with technology so that they could work their way around finding the purpose of any individual virtual object. Thus, companies thought to give up skeuomorphism for good.
Moreover, the skeuomorphic UI design objects started to clutter the desktop space. It did not make for a very neat & clean user interface. But, that nowhere means that the design practice was abandoned completely. It never ever vanished from the scene.
If there is still room for any doubts, here is an example that clarifies as to where skeuomorphic design failed. The very much used “Save Icon” imitates the design of a floppy disk.
But, do the kids of today even know what a floppy disk is? No, isn’t it? Instead, people of today, have created an image in their head for the save icon, without associating it with any real-life object.
This directly implies the insignificance of skeuomorphism in designing efforts.
Still, one cannot conclude that the skeuomorphic design would see a dead-end soon based on this particular example. It has a lot of relevance, only if you wish to explore the iceberg way down its surface.
So, What’s the Status Now?
In the current scenario, skeuomorphic is blended with non-skeuomorphic (flat) design to offer a noteworthy user experience. With time, designers understood the fact as to what works and what does not work with the users.
Shadows, depths, and reflections are being retrieved as part of a skeuomorphic design. For instance, skeuomorphism lets the buttons on the screen appear to be pressable as they had some depth, texture, and shadow effect added to it; something that the flatter design failed at. This, in turn, proves that there is no point in abandoning something that facilitates usability.
We very much need skeuomorphism in our designing techniques. Even Google went on to introduce “Material Design” in 2014, which blended the principles of skeuomorphism with flat design.
Reinstating the Faith in Skeuomorphism
iOS 13 is a sheer example that proves the fact that skeuomorphism is here to stay.
Initially, Apple gave up on skeuomorphic design once and for all when they launched iOS 7. But, with time, the tech giant decided to stick back to the roots of skeuomorphism in the form of “Environment Anisotropism.”
Anisotropy refers to a virtual object taking an assorted appearance, with respect to the angle you view it from. In simple words, the virtual object on the screen imitates the real one in the actual world.
Here’s a simple video to help you get a grip on the concept.
If it isn’t skeuomorphism, then what it is?
So, now we can say that the skeuomorphic design actually never vanished! It has been there for a while, it is there, and it will stay for as long as realism doesn’t go out of trend.
Where the skeuomorphic design looks gaudy, the flat design looks very minimalistic if you go overboard. So, it is always a good practice to maintain a fine balance between the two design practices.
If lost on your way, it is never too late to consult a design expert who understands the forwards and the backward of the best designing techniques that are doing well in the market.