Do We Still Need Skeuomorphs?

First lets talk about what skeuomorphs are. It’s a new buzz word used to describe design elements that have no purpose in their current form but are used to give a familiarity to something from the past. Skeuomorph design elements are extremely prevalent in Apple’s software designs.

In iPhoto for iOS you’ll see your photo albums represented as books sitting on shelves with pictures on them. You’ll see pictures of paint brushes and pencils to represent editing tools. The iBooks and Newstand apps show your books and subscriptions on wooden shelves. Buttons have bevels and shadows and fake light refraction. The dock at the bottom of the home screen has fake icon reflections. The Games Center has textures straight out of a casino.

On the other hand, there’s Microsoft. With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft has gone in a completely different direction. They’re taking user interface design into a future without the useless yet familiar skeuomorphs. The interface actually feels like something from a science fiction movie. Square and rectangular tiles are neatly arranged in solid colored pixel forms while floating over a bare area of negative space on the start screen. There’s nothing fake here though icons do represent simplified forms of objects from the past like the telephone receiver. Still, we have buttons that aren’t pretending to be something else. Text is text, pictures are pictures. There aren’t any extraneous decorations, fake reflections or unnecessary textures here.

Microsoft’s designers seem to be going by the quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away” where as Apple’s designers seem to add all sorts of unnecessary graphics which Clive Thompson of Wired says are hobbling innovation and lashing designers to metaphors of the past.

Let us know what you think in the comments? Are you a fan of pixels pretending to be leather textures and spiral-bound notebooks or do you prefer your pixels to be more digitally authentic?

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About The Author
Adam Z. Lein
Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies who have often implemented his ideas for usability and feature enhancements. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for since they first appeared on the market in 2002. Read more about Adam Lein!