Technology July 20, 2015 Last updated September 18th, 2018 2,376 Reads share

Is the Rumored Death of the Skeuomorphic Design Trend Real?

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The design industry seems to be the application area of the dialectical logic as Skeuomorphism, which is almost unanimously considered a passe and flat design that might coalesce and a synthesis that might originate.

In this article, we’ll explain why this seems likely along with the pros and cons of both types of design so web designers with an approach lopsided to any of the two, could take some cues.

Over the last couple of years, the design industry has undergone many changes. One of them is Skeuomorphism being dismissed by many designers and flat design trends being welcomed. But in 2015, some designers are asking whether the industry is going too far with flat design and whether skeuomorphism should be regarded dead.

Is skeuomorphism really dead?

Imagine a world where everything digital is non-photorealistic. Difficult to imagine, isn’t it? The web will look no different from an high-end comic book. This is what the death of skeuomorphism spells out. When we access the web and come across real or semi-real objects, we are tricked into thinking that they are perfect representations of the reality. This is a feeling that we enjoy and want to continue to enjoy. Flat design is entirely different. It explains why the UI elements don’t necessarily have to look like the objects in the real world for being understood.

But flat design and resulting non-photorealism cannot expect to be welcomed by the digital world with open arms as there are many segments where photorealism is more than essential. One such segment is 3D rendering. Non-photorealism does exist in 3D, but the limelight falls on its photorealistic twin. Now 3D rendering is not designing in true sense, but it is close to it and to replicate the reality, it needs to be almost a copy of it.

Hence, it’s a gross exaggeration that skeuomorphism is dead. As long as the demand of photorealism will remain, skeuomorphism will exist.

But then

Why flat design is the next big thing?

Flat design is favored by web design companies, chiefly because it’s easy to implement and cost-efficient. Besides that, flat design goes perfectly in sync with the principles of the current design trends that emphasize on simplistic design. These are the key benefits of flat design.

Flat design gives relief to designers by sorting all the technical issues. All that flat design requires are simple coding and less number of images. A site with flat design loads faster than a site with skeuomorphic design. But alongside these benefits, there are some challenges as well.

Color selection is one such challenge. In flat design, site backgrounds are designed in white color. Assuming it’s a service providing site, it needs to have call-to-action buttons, which, if light colored, may not even be noticed by the site visitors. This way the site may miss out on a prospective lead.

Hence, flat design does have some disadvantages but it’s still a web designer’s favorite because it uncomplicates his work.

One thing needs to be mentioned here; the choice between flat and skeuomorphic design would have been somewhat random, had we been stuck with the desktop web. But courtesy to the display technologies, most of us are now totally savvy with accessing the mobile web where the difference between the two is way more prominent.

The handheld platform

There’s no denying that skeuomorphism was once popular on the handheld platform. But most industry observers would now side with Bradley Falk, the CEO of a New York based startup called Poshly, who said “Flat scales well to smaller screens….” He explained the reason by saying “This is because use of white space is important, but buttons are uncluttered and big–easy to identify on mobile, faster to render and have smaller payloads. Flat really helps here, because I can spend less time designing pages specifically for a mobile device.”

Small screens come with a number of restrictions. A minimalistic design pattern can bode well with such screens. Skeuomorphic design looks rich but it is not as friendly as it should be on a screen with low resolution.

Apple showcased skeuomorphic design like no other company until Jony Ive took over the UI design department. Before that, the iOS ecosystem was largely known for its textures and gradients that glued the users to Apple’s brand name.

But Jony Ive ended the longstanding culture and gave the iOS UI a new look, which was fundamentally different from the look that its predecessors bore. iOS 7 showcased colors perspicuously with unornamented icons and typography driven design. iOS 6 had an entirely different and embellished UI. The 3D elements were quasi-real at best. iOS 7 got rid of them by replacing them with 2D elements.

Fluidity matters

The key reason flat design is able to flex its muscles is fluidity. As I’ve stated before, on the desktop platform skeuomorphic design works just fine. But on the handheld platform, it falls flat because it is anything but fluid.

A Smart device is the home to apps. When a user handles an app, he repeatedly touches the screen. Such interference is intuitive and requires a fluid UX, which doesn’t fit with the skeuomorphic design.

But there’s a difference between how people access applications on the mobile platform and how they access a website. When users access a website, its layout, navigation and content bother them. But when they access an application, they stay concerned about its usability, interface and user-friendliness. Understanding this difference is crucial and so is designing an app interface that is less embellished and cumbersome. That’s why a big guy like Apple had to redesign its platform with flat design.

Future of skeuomorphic design

True, the future of skeuomorphic design looks grim on the face the above discussion, but that doesn’t mean its death is impending. There are two convincing reasons to think so. First, the handheld platform may evolve to an extent in the future that it will no longer require fluidity, and secondly, rich and ornamental design will continue to be required for branding.

So, we can wrap up this lengthy discussion with the conclusion that skeuomorphism won’t die and will continue to be relevant but most of the design arena will be consumed by flat design. We can see the sign of it already.

Images: “web design/


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Eric Haskell

Eric Haskell

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