What comes after flat design?

Geri Reid brings up a good question. Skeuomorphic design took the world on quite a ride, but it seems to be out now. While I don’t agree with her that Microsoft “struck a winning blow with the flat interface of Windows 8,” there is no doubt a change is coming.

I would like to see Apple update their interfaces, but not eschew Skeuomorphic elements altogether.

Remember Apple’s previous keynotes. The crowd didn’t roar and applaud for the flat design elements, they cheered when the Passbook app shredded a card with a realistic shredder that popped up on the screen.

Apple needs to refine that design, not replace it.

  • jacksonsquire

    “Flat design” existed long before skeuomorphism. It was just called “modernism”. We’ve gone through several periods after modernism, but we always come back to it again before going off in another direction.

    I think it’s just best to wait and see if iOS 7 even contains any changes.

    About the cheering of the shredding they only cheered after Forestall egged them on about how “cool” it was. The shredder is one of the fine examples of skeuomorphism gone wrong.

    • Richard Pollock

      Agreed. What makes a crowd roar, applaud and cheer and what makes a usable interface are not one and the same.

      • gjgustav

        That’s why he said it needs to be refined. That fact is, regular people are delighted to see that sort of thing, and it makes them feel good they are using an Apple product. It also eases people that are apprehensive about using technology. You want this reaction from your customers.

        I still like the leather look of the calendar on the iPad, and I’ve heard others say the same thing. Possibly because on iOS, everything is full screen. If the app has a real world analog that you would hold in your hand, then it should “become” that analog; at least in default mode anyway. But on the desktop, it looks ridiculous. It should look and function like the other things you see and use on your screen.

      • lucascott

        Very true. The crowd will basically always applaud a decent magic trick.

        I think that what Apple needs is to first cut the stuff that serves no practical purpose. Moving shadows on faux buttons for example. They don’t do anything practical and perhaps add more bulk to the code.

        But what they should not do is try to totally revamp things at once. Part of what makes iOS devices popular is that they feel familiar to the non techie masses. If you start stop all skeuromorphs that feeling goes away and folks might stop coming to the devices in droves as they are. It’s got to be done in stages. Perhaps this year you dump the gradient backgrounds and shadows. Next year you remove the whole ‘book’ appearance. Give folks time to adjust

    • dvdphn

      The “pull to refresh” animation for the mail app seem to have a better audience response.

  • Jonathan

    The most appealing instance of skeuomorphism in iOS: the animated Settings icon while installing an iOS update. If only the gears meshed…

    • You don’t like iBooks?

    • lucascott

      It works because it has the practical purpose of letting you know that the system is working and hasn’t frozen.

  • Salvador Rudy

    Anything would be better than “flat design” in my opinion.

  • Next, “Fat Design” where everything is slow and lumbering…like a Galaxy S3.

    Yes, yes, yes, this joke is very un-PC.

  • I wouldn’t even agree that Microsoft “struck a winning blow with the flat interface of Windows 8”. With the “design crowd” that frequents the internet? Maybe. With people who actually USE Windows 8 … not as much.

    Part of why everyone in my life has an iPhone is because they KNOW what to tap on to make things happen. The tap areas look like something which should be tapped. “Flat design” as Microsoft has implemented it and as people seem to always fall for will not help those people.

    It is another fad, another swinging of the pendulum

    • Yay Bubbles

      Nobody would agree with this. Only a paid Microsoft shill would post something so utterly absurd.

  • quietstorms

    It’s no different than fashion. It is cyclical and trendy.

    I will say that I agree with Gruber in that much of iOS’s skeuomorphic design looked too fake under high-res screens.

  • imthedude

    Trends come and go, and the skeuomorphic trend is over. It wasn’t all bad, just mostly. I’m excited for an overhaul, for the sheer fact I’m sick of looking at the same thing. That said, I don’t think they need to go completely flat like MS, but the poker table felt and fine corinthian leather can hit the bricks.

  • Flat design sucks more than Google and Samsung!

  • Herding_sheep

    Just like Apple shouldn’t have gone too far with the fake textures and “skeumorphism,” they also shouldn’t go too far in the other direction like Microsoft. The problem with Microsofts implementation, is that UI elements do not have the same conveyance. For example, a button is raised to let you know it actually depresses. Its not as clear which elements are tappable or not, when everything is all just a flat square.

    We need just a healthy mix of the two. Apple really just needs to get rid of the faux textures and the rest of the bubbliness from Aqua, and they’ll have something great. Basically, kind of the mindset they were in during the 2007 time when they made Leopard. Leopard “flattened” the Aqua UI a little bit. People seem to misunderstand that “flat design” means “Windows 8 neon colored squared boxes.”

    What I don’t want to see is iOS losing all of its personality. The beautiful animations and things like the paper shredder give iOS a unique personality and makes things a little more fun. I know usability purists have no time for fun, its just WORK WORK WORK, but these elements have made iOS a lot of fun for normal people. I remember seeing the genie effect in OSX for the first time in 2001, and it blew me away. I still love it to this day.

    • lucascott

      “We need just a healthy mix of the two”

      Agreed. Some of the features have practical purposes and that’s fine. The purely decorative stuff that can go. Especially now when more features means more bloat to the code. The last thing iOS needs is to be bunched in with ‘fat’ Samsung and MS taking up to half the storage in a device for the OS and built in apps

    • “We need just a healthy mix of the two.”

      If you do that, you get Android.

  • There is so much in the Windows 8 flat design that needs to be refined. The tiling is interesting, but it can be better. The settings and other controls need to be much more clear about what can be tapped and when.

    If iOS goes flat, I suspect it will find a way to be an aesthetic thing while leaving us with clear indicators of what to tap and how to move and arrange things. Or I hope it will, anyway. Anything less will just be a Windows 8 clone and not very useful, either for us iOS users or as something to distinguish iOS again in the tech media.

  • for some forms of ui, skeuomorphic design is very cool. propellerhead reason is a good example. occasionally over the top but essentially easy to use and very familiar. whereas the faux paper and binding of apple’s calendar or contacts apps is just ugly and mostly non-functional.

    however, funny enough, logic pro eschews skeuomorphic design for much (though not all) of its interface and it’s a bitch to use.

  • CAugustin

    Flat is bad (sorry, I couldn’t resist ;)). Two arguments against it:

    1. We need something that is called “affordances” that clearly show were elements are we can interact with. Raised buttons are good for that; other visual clues can also work, but it is harder to get to the user …

    2. Skeuomorphic apps are often easier to distinguish on the screen than “flat” designed apps. All this “noise” is often less noisy than it seems and helps to instantly recognise apps. (This is why I reversed my Calendar app on OS X back to its “leathery” appearance after using Montain Tweeks …)

    But I think Jony Ive knows this and will not copy the Microsoft way of doing “modern” design.

  • I like how the author tries to connect Apple’s current interface designs to their quarterly results: “This month, Apple profits fell for the first time in a decade and many commentators see their failure to evolve as their downfall. It suddenly seems as if Apple have lost a bite of their cool.”

    iPhone is a mass-market device and generally speaking, the mass market thinks different then the Tech Media Elite (TME) does. The use of green felt in Game Center or faux stitched leather does not, in any way, impede the use of the App, which is the core of the problem of a really bad skeuomorphic design. TME’s darling calendar, Fantastical, has skeuomorphic design in it as well, or did you all miss the stitching at the top of it?

    I have yet to see anyone in the general public who’s eyes bleed when they see Comic Sans used like John Gruber’s does.

    I didn’t get a retina display to have all those pixels wasted on a duo tone interface. In the end, I think there are ways to improve the functionality of the apps and overall OS that would go far further then just replacing felt.

    • kibbles

      comic sans is the shittiest font ever. im not a font freak but its apparent even to me.using it in business is the best way to say “I’M AN AMATEUR!”

  • Terry Maraccini

    Flatter design. Everything looks like a bellybutton

  • dvdphn

    If the music app is any indication, Apple already has gone to “flat design”. Tappable objects should look tappable, (the icons in multitask bar being a good example).

    If anything, I hope they put in small improvements, like, notches or some type of indicator on the volume bar, (it would be nice to know if you’re at 50%, 75%, though putting in a colour gradient, i.e. green/yellow/orange/red zones, might be too skeuomorphic, but still tolerable).

  • People are confused and the idea that iOS starts to feel dull has nothing to do with the infamous skeuomorphism. I don’t know who came up with this idea in essence, yet people keep repeating that. There are 3 points i would like to mention:

    First: Flat is actually ugly

    Windows Phone as an example for flatness is still a failure and the only catchy thing is the live tiles and that’s it. Android has an ugly UI and the only thing that people love about it is the many damn functionalists cramped there. I.e. both platforms are not good examples for Apple to follow or people to compare.

    Second: Apple’s issue is not in the design

    I adore aesthetics, and that’s why I love the excessive life-like elements Apple implement in their Apps. I like the calendar on iPad which is a joy to look at (imagine its a flat bunch of cells? how ugly). When Apple introduced the Podcast with animated reel, people criticized that (really?!) actually the lack of functionalityies was the thing that people were after, not the animated reel in particular but the heated debate over skeuomorphism diverted the attention to that instead of the real problem.

    Ask anyone do you prefer reading books on iBook or Kindle apps?

    Third: Who said skeuomorphism makes complex UX

    I don’t know how people think that life-like elements in Apps are complex and not intuitive and they want more simple UI?! Really, Based on my basic info, buttons that look like real buttons are self-explanatory and intuitive adding to that great looking design will serve both ends (aesthetics and usability)

    The popularity of iPhone among youngs and old was 90% software success

  • albertkinng

    Seriously, do you think people care? I just ask my wife to see what’s her comment was and she said: “I love my iPhone how it is, if they change it I change it!” So basically we (nerds) fight about flat design and the rest of us love their iDevices just how they are. Get it? People doesn’t give a damn! …. We do.

  • I tend to agree with Mike Monteiro.

    “Stop focusing on whether it’s skeuomorphic or flat and focus on whether it’s GOOD. Can’t tell? Hire someone who can.”


    • Absolutely. Some of the worst UIs in iOS are skeuomorphic, but that’s not what makes them bad. What makes them bad is the inattention to detail, and failing to provide a simple way to do what the user wants.

    • Yay Bubbles

      That is their primary problem. Instead of hiring talent, they hire shills who post utter garbage.

      There isn’t one person, who isn’t on Microsoft’s payroll, who likes the Windows 8 Metro Interface, but instead of fixing it, they are just throwing more money into convincing people that it’s great. What a sad testament to a once great company.

  • Slurpy2k12

    I find it disturbing how everyone is basically ragging on Apple to mindlessly..adopt the design principles of Microsoft/Google..Why? When the hell in Apple’s history have they done this? Apple sets the way forward, and I absolutely trust Ive, whether “flat” or not flat. Also, the vast majority of people love iOS and how it looks, it’s the tiny minority online that rags about it and that it’s “outdated”. I honestly dont think the general public prefers Android or Windows phone in terms of looks. iOS is still the most intuitive, consistent, and easy to use mobile device out there.

    • Yay Bubbles

      It’s because some of the posters here work in the Microsoft Reputation Management department.

  • I still get excited about a hand-stitched, moleskin leather calendar case. Don’t tell my designer mates though 🙂

  • John

    I totally agree with your post. Personally I’m bored with this flat design trend (already). Every site/app that uses it is starting to look the same. Imagine the whole web was flat, how boring would that be? Of course it suits Microsoft as they were the pioneers however everyone just jumping in mindlessly with single coloured designs and boring flat icons is getting tedious. I for one will miss the beautifully crafted icons and the level of detail that went into making them. Just look at your Launchpad on your Mac compared with live tiles on Windows 8 and see which one you get bored of looking at first.

    • I was afraid of all of that cuz ppl just repeat words (simple, modern, flat, etc) without understanding the consequences.

      The problem is that Apple listened, and now instead of being a trend creator they are “following” trends.

      Its just unforgiving if u tried iOS7, its a huge step backward, inconsistent experince, awful colors and icons, and with all flatness the install file still the same 1.2 GB for iPhone 4S and its not running smoothly. based on Apple records it will take them up to iOS 10 in order to finish or fix or hopefull ditch this design on all over iPhone, iPad, Mac.

      Apple is doomed. None of their iconic elements are in iOS 7. Everything stripped in favor of ugly design stolen from Android, Windows Phone or the Jailbreak community.

      I don’t know how Apple bloggers and fans are still defending that, seriously?!

      I’m not updating to iOS 7, and after 6 years i’m not gonna buy the next stuff from Apple, simply because of that tasteless design direction they chose.

      • jshafer73

        As I sit and ponder how to take “Flat” to the next level, I can’t help but think that it’s all a trick to help us with a different need, the need for speed. I downloaded a template last night that had 90% of the artwork actually coded! I admit, I have always been a fan of Apple’s “Simplistic” design, and “Flat” can be clean. It just doesn’t lend itself to creativity, without leaving the realm of “Flat”. So in my mind, this won’t last very long at all, I just need to find out what the trend will be next year.

      • Guest

        You’re lucky you still have iOS 6. I regret updating to the ugly iOS 7.

        • No. After I made that comment 10 month ago I’m forced to update, otherwise you’ll be left behind

          , also apps started to get flat design anyway. The problem as I said before, the OS is still buggy and it will take Apple long time to polish the damned thing

  • Yay Bubbles

    Flat design is just a fad which needs to die quickly.

    It’s unfortunate, but user interface designers largely provide after the fact rationalizations for their group-think rather than any serious evidence for the design being better or worse.

    User acceptance testing for many of these designs is Nil.

  • Guest

    This flat design is ridiculous. Why do people think a “plain and simple” design looks good? For me, it looks horrible. I want it to be like the old days, where the icons looked real (for example the sun icons, nowadays it’s just a circle with lines around it). When I first used iOS 7, I was excited. Only a few days went by and I got bored of it already due to the flat and boring design. Then I saw a comparison of iOS 6 and iOS 7 and that made me miss iOS 6. If every website on the internet had the flat design, it would get boring to use very quickly. Heck, I am already bored of using my computer after an hour because of the flat design. I just hope, HOPE, this design will die soon and the old, detailed, design will come back.

  • no flat

    agree, flat is not the way to go, people in the “design world” are just not in the real usable world.