Skeuomorphism and busting myths

Not everything that Apple does in software design can be classified as Skeuomorphism. Louie Mantia does a good job of explaining it.

  • Mark Biswas

    More importantly, a visually distinctive app such as Game Center, Find My Friends, Podcasts, or iBooks helps you to remember which app you’re in.”

    Yes, I know I’m in FMF or GameCenter because I feel like throwing up.

    Skeuomorphism is like porn: I know it when I see it.

    Arguing what is and what is not Skeuomorphism is not helpful. Just make tastefully designed apps, whatever that means.

    • Mother Hydra

      First of all, you are conflating two different things. Whether or not the design of these apps is to your taste (you refer to vomit here) is to completely miss the whole point.

      A wise man has this to say about skeuomorhpism/skinning/flat design:

      “This is a rare moment in any industry, and we should be savoring our opportunity to make such a significant impact. Wherever you sit on the issue, you should be passionate, you should have strong opinions, and you should want to participate—or at least follow along and consider the arguments. Because if you don’t care, why are you doing this job? If a conversation about design is enough to make you complain, is this even a career you enjoy?”

      -Dave Wiskus, from

      Clearly I can’t say with certainty if you are a designer in a related field, my hunch says no. If this is the case, I give your comment a total troll pass. If you are a designer, I hope Dave’s rebuke strikes a cord and motivates you to better educate yourself about this important discussion.

      • You said a lot without saying anything at all, or responding to what Mark said in a meaningful way. Regardless of whether skeuomorphism is being applied to the functionality or appearance of an app, it’s skeuomorphism. A station wagon with wood paneling isn’t attempting to simulate the function of a tree, but it’s still skeuomorphic. It’s not a question of conflating two different things, it’s a question of how one thing is applied in two different ways. Apps like Music, Calendar, and Mail are shining examples of how to make an app eminently usable and modern, and sufficiently differentiated without making any person with decent taste want to vomit immediately. Giving Game Center the Windows 3.11 “Hot Dog Stand” theme would also differentiate it quite clearly, and I’m sure the Retina Display would render those ketchup reds and mustard yellows brilliantly, but it would still be an eyesore.

    • JohnDoey

      So what you are saying is you are better at computers than everyone else. OK. But most people who have hundreds of apps appreciate when the app’s interface is at least as distinctive as its icon, so that when waking the device into an app, they don’t have to go to the home screen and tap am icon to get back into that same app because they did not know they were already in that app. People don’t want generic lists of data that all look the same — they want intuitively useful tools.

  • JohnDoey

    Every time someone says that word, my respect for them goes down. This is another Antennagate, another “iPhone 5 parts orders have been cut in half.” It is just a way for “PC people” to try and deal with the fact that “their world is ending.” (In Steve Jobs’ words.) It’s just a way to bash Apple while you try to sell someone a generic Mac clone or generic iPhone clone, or keep them from buying Apple products. It’s also a way to try and excuse the failings of those generic products. Most generic PC’s and phones cannot reproduce full color, so PC people say full color is not necessary. Most have low-res interfaces that haven’t been updated for years — so showing no visible pixels is deemed unnecessary. It is te standard generic tech con game.

    There is no “pure digital world” that Apple is violating. That is as stupid as “cyberspace.” (We no longer “go online” into a “virtual world” — we put wireless Internet into the REAL world, and we are always online.) Humans have eyes that evolved with full color, full contrast light and shadow and texture, fingers to manipulate complicated items, and all if those things need to be represented in computing interfaces at full fidelity, same as we rip 44.1kHz 16-bit stereo CD to 44.1kHz 16-bit stereo MP4. Digital culture is now big enough to hold REAL culture. A blue gradient background on an app is not “pure” it is lazy and arbitrary. There is no need to represent things in line drawing abstraction anymore, or in chunky pixelated 8-bit color.

    The key thing with a multitouch device with powerful native C/C++ apps (like iPhone and iPad) is it can morph into any similarly-sized device. I replaced the portable multitrack audio recorder/mixer that I used to carry with an iPhone running a portable multitracker app and Apogee accessory microphone, but I still need mixer faders, Record, Play, Stop buttons, a jog wheel to move across the timeline in small amounts to cue, recording armed lights on each channel, Vu meters to see audio levels. The idea that those interface elements — the language of audio recording — do not belong in an app interface is absurd. It’s like saying if you look at the Mona Lisa with an iPhone, she should appear in chunky 8-bit color as on a Sega Genesis or something. I’ll always have a soft spot for the 1980’s computer interfaces, but they are a Model T whereas we are at the Tesla Roadster stage of computing interfaces today.

    Same goes for art tools. Are we going to make 10 identical computers buttons and label them “PASTEL” and “MARKER” and “PAINTBRUSH” and so on so that the artist has to read each one before using it, or are we just going to show them a digital representation of actual art tools, so that when they need a paintbrush, they just intuitively pick up and use a paintbrush as they work? The latter, no doubt about it. If you are a programmer who does not want to hire an artist or designer to work on your app, you jut want to draw cheesy buttons by yourself, it’s very inconvenient to recognize the full-color, no visible pixels, super high interactivity of modern programming, especially when only Apple devices can really do it as yet. But that is no excuse for deifying antique ideas.

    When Mac OS X shipped there was a similar debate to this. The full-color, photorealistic icons in Mac OS X were said to not even qualify as icons. There were serious computer science graduates complaining that a fake 1-pixel line drawing of a drop shadow (as seen in Mac OS Classic, NeXT, and this of course also in Windows) was “pure” but an actual drop shadow? No, that is a bad thing they said. The stupidity of it is profound. Pixar faced this same thing too, as they showed that animation doesn’t stop at line drawing. Can you imagine if Pixar were to make every movie look only like Snow White? It makes no sense.

    And finally, notice that GPU’s are made to draw the real world. Textures, lights, 3D elements — those are NATIVE to GPU’s. If you show line drawings thorough the GPU or limited-color gradients, then you are abusing the GPU. What Apple is doing is just using the GPU (and the user’s eyes) at full capacity. The idea that we would not makes no sense at all.

  • I love my iPhones, iPads and Macs. The over-the-top skeuo-whatever has to go though. Don’t clutter up the UI to be cute. Sorry, Louie. Just because you enjoy creating rich graphics doesn’t mean they’re usably superior.

    There’s no reason to use a poker table motif in Game Center other than it looks neat.

    What’s the point of the leather stitching?

    The bookmark ribbon and full book motif for Lion’s address book have no function.

    These things are superfluous and if that’s all that Apple has to compete on, then they’re going to lose.

    Faders and sliders in GarageBand have a function. There’s a distinct reason for them. Having used a hardware mixing console, the effort to learn a software console is minimal.

    I want my apps to look similar. It’s like I already know how to use apps I’ve never seen before. Use skeuomorphism when it makes sense and never more.