To Skeuomorph or not to Skeuomorph

We learn by imitation. Language is a form of copying with layers of understanding gracefully coming into place as we become more literate and more mature.

Skeuomorphism, the style of design that uses elements fundamental to a previous design which seemingly have no function in the contemporary design is a misnomer. Everything is skeuomorphism. Everything is learnt from previous learning, we are the imitating mammal.

There came a time when a book had to be understood within the context of a scroll, and society adjusted slowly. Familiar things such as paper and the standard left right top down reading method pulled us through that transition. After jumping trough a few of these transitions, where one ends up looks much different from where one began. This is where the opponents of skeuomorphism fail to recognize the depth of the situation. More contemporary “flat” or “honest” designs are still referencing previous design, just more contemporary ones. It’s a designers job to reference the mean of all recognition, even if it flies in the face of “good” design so to speak.

For example, nothing really needs to “scroll” or slide out when selected in an iOS app, it wasted time simply animating. But it does happen, because it’s referencing scrolling selection boxes in Windows, which probably referenced either scrolls themselves or window blinds if you want to get really on the nose about it. Almost everyone on the planet has been exposed to this reference, it’s a good target mean.

Designing for maximum understanding means one sometimes does have to use smooth Corinthian leather to let users know they can tear the pages out of their calendar app or wooden bookshelves to let another user know the shelf can scroll. What would the alternative be, books floating on a plain background? How does the user know they’re books? How does the user know which way to scroll, if at all?

There seems to be this sort of vanity amongst designers in such a way that their worldview of regular, everyday objects are somehow irrelevant to designing anything in this Post-PC era.

This erroneous notion is like arguing you can teach a child astrophysics before you can teach him that the round peg goes in the round hole.

All elements of design use some element of recognition to cue the user into first recognizing, then acting. The former is often overlooked. We talk about design as how something works, but we fail to talk about design as how something is recognized. You cannot use what you don’t already recognize, and there are different layers of recognition that ignite different assumptions within the user about how a design should work.

Even the so called “honest” design trend floating around in some products is doing itself a disservice, there is no such thing as “good” design in the traditional sense, such a notion is preaching to the choir. There is only design that offers the most amount of understandability with the least amount of noise. One could argue that it’s like communicating a complicated idea in detail using the least amount of words possible.

Does Apple go too far with their skeuomorphism? Maybe. But maybe that’s a byproduct of targeting a huge, huge market: anyone and everyone.