I saw a lively discussion on App.net today while perusing the Global Feed that started me thinking again about skeuomorphic design. The very first time I heard the term, like many other people, I assumed that it either referred to a horribly disfiguring skin condition or an exotic species of newt.

In fact, “Skeuomorphs” are brand-new things that take on the appearance or structure of much older things; for instance, an iPad app for taking notes that causes the tablet to look and function more like a legal pad.  After doing some thinking on the subject, ​I have formed an opinion about Skeuomorphism as it relates to app UX/UI design, and so help me I am going to share it. Additionally, I have an observation that led to a crazy idea, both of which I am also going to present for your review and comment.

So here goes:

​Opinion:  skeuomorphic elements make sense some of the time, and many are perfectly delightful. But they shouldn’t be applied to every screen of an app, especially when the basic metaphor completely breaks down for some reason (for instance, why WHY would you apply a leather or denim texture to a weather forecast?) or where excessive realism would frustrate, confuse or prevent a user from quickly accomplishing a utilitarian task.

​Observation: current discussions I’ve seen related to skeuomorphic design place it in direct contrast with what I will call the “metro” or “flat” aesthetic, a hallmark of the latest Windows mobile OS and some lovely Android apps. Based on what has caught my eye lately, it seems to me that many designers are either continuing to create tightly rendered perspective and depth effects or eschewing them completely.

​Crazy Idea: in pursuit of great mobile experiences maybe we’re not limited to either employing flat, vector forms and subtle gradients OR choosing to scatter drop shadows, stitching, and textures like so much confetti at a parade. Perhaps in addition to choosing one aesthetic or the other (or creating a complicated mixture of both) we could experiment wildly with the way we’re styling interfaces that sit below a slick glass screen?

I’ve been daydreaming about cubist paintings as I’ve been thinking about skeuomorphic design. The way I understand the cubist movement, broadly, is that artists like Picasso and Braque were struggling with the problem of how to represent multiple views of a three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional surface. The result was a collage of different perspectives of various objects and people – which I suppose corresponds much more closely with how we actually perceive the world.​

So I’m curious. Could thinking like a cubist result in a new way of interacting with apps? ​

Useful Links:​



(originally published on BAD YEWEX)