Were we too hard on skeuomorphism?

Business Insider’s Nicholas Carlson wrote about Steve Jobs, skeuomorphism, and design history that predates iOS. He shares one particular anecdote about a Breitling watch ad and the QuickTime 4 player interface.

I’ve defended skeuomorphism before. Can I prove that skeumorphism is good? No, but the way Apple has used it over the years has made a profound affect on me. When I started using System 7 as a child, skeuomorphism was the primary reason I was attracted to design and the Mac. I spent countless hours studying the interface because it reminded me of real things. I was fascinated with the virtual world that skeuomorphism created: teetering in an arbitrary balancing act between the realistic and the imaginary.

I remember that when Steve Jobs introduced the iPad, I was immediately taken with its graphic user interface. The iPhone was loaded with skeuomorphism, which was inspired by Mac OS X’s UI. I admired Scott Forstall’s and Steve’s design choices. I wanted to read books again because iBooks was attractive to me, whereas the Kindle’s drab display was a turnoff.

Has skeuomorphism always worked well? Of course not. Just like flat design of iOS 7 and Yosemite will not make everyone happy, opinionated design will only work for people that mutually share the opinion. And there is always the question of is it implemented effectively? That’s yet another subjective realm that many a designer and customer has debated.

Thankfully, I have enjoyed Apple’s design in 1994, 2004, and in 2014. And along the way, I think I’ve picked up on a possibility that many haven’t considered. I think that in years to come, Yosemite’s new design standards could introduce a new balancing act: one where skeuomorphism will be yin to flat design’s yang.

PS: I still enjoy reading on the iPad with iBooks in iOS 8, but I also fondly remember the impact it made on my reading habits in 2010.


Joe Darnell

Joe is a UI and graphic designer with prior experience as the creative director for three media-based businesses. Joe’s passionate about web design and graphic design with about 15 years of experience in the media industry. Additionally, Joe is the host of the Top Brew and Techtonic podasts, both featured on iTunes.