Skeuomorphism

For whatever reason, Scott Forstall is out and internet has a new buzz word to play with—Skeuomorphism. For even more unknown reason, just in one day that "Skeuomorphism" has become a evil thing, and Apple has fallen in desperate need of getting rid of it with help of Jony Ive. There was nothing wrong with iOS a day before. Sometimes I think that people don't have taste and their opinion at all, and like things they are told to like (or dislike in this case).

It's not first time I see that Apple has two types of users: a) people who make their life easier and comfier using Apple's products and b) people who buy Apple stuff because they are told it's good. I believe I'm in first group. 

Back to Skeuomorphism.

Oxford Dictionary:

An object or feature which imitates the design of a similar artefact in another material.

Basically, it's a kitsch. Personally I hate it, especially in car interiors with fake plastic woods and leather textured panels. It does serve a purpose though: it simulates look of more expensive interior, just like in Jaguar or Bentley. 

In software skeuomorphic user interfaces doesn't fool you by faking more expensive and luxury items, they just serve as a symbols that help your brain connect something on the screen with something you've already used in your everyday life. There is a good reason for Xerox Alto, which was first computer with graphic UI to have things like desktopwindowstrash bindocumentsfolders... It was easier to understand in times when people thought computers are only lunar expeditions. You see, everything listed in Alto's UI are real things, therefore nearly every UI you seen in every operating system is a skeuomorphic as a result. There is nothing new to it. On iPhone, Passbook is a brilliant example how skeuomorphic UI does it's best. It separates movie tickets from boarding passes very clearly and makes UI cleaner by elimination "TYPE: BOARDING PASS" indicators on every single item. It even makes app look very minimalistic, yet readable.

So, if not skeuomorphic design, what's wrong with iOS? Yes, stitched leather is awful and unnecessary in Reminders app. So is a tape deck in Podcasts and ripped paper in iCal. But does this graphical elements make them worse? No, user experience does. 

Problem Apple is having now is user interactions design. There are many problems in iOS today that have nothing to do with a shredder in Passbook app:

  • For unknown reasons Camera app launched from lock screen can not share photos, so you have to: 1) press home button, 2) unlock phone, 3) navigate to Photos app, 4) goto to camera roll, 5) select latest photo, 6) share the damn thing.

  • iCloud works, but it's to opaque to user in terms of files and the way they are organized.

  • Notification Center doesn't track your activity, thus you have to delete notification manually even if you took action it was notifying you about.

  • Notes app is extremely limited. 

List is not complete.

Again, back to Skeuomorphism. There is nothing wrong with it, but there is a thin line where it's too much (Reminders app, kitsch) and when it does serve a purpose (Passbook, clean and readable). 

It is important for designers to remember, that UI has to respect content it's serving. Content is the reason there is an UI for it. If graphical elements dominate everything, then it's unnecessary; get rid of it, make it clean.