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Skeuomorphism in web design…is it dead

by Eric Colantropo

Among the buzz words and trending topics for 2013 such as responsive web design, fluid grids, and web fonts, there is one word that is slightly harder to pronounce than all the rest: skeuomorphism. Skeuomorphism when applied to web design is the idea of portraying physical objects of the real world on the screen. 

This is Apple’s user interface (ui) for all iOS versions leading up to iOS 7 has focused on the use of skeumorphic objects to create a lifelike environment that looks and feels natural. For instance, the newsstand app on the iPhone looks like physical newspapers and magazines sitting on a wooden bookshelf. Another example is how the notes app is designed to look like a pad of lined paper. In iOS7, Apple is stripping away this type of skeuomorphic design in an effort to make things appear simpler. While it may have been nice that the newsstand app looked like a 3D bookshelf, did it really make the design more intuitive or was it just frivolous? Apple has recently shifted views on this topic and is beginning to answer “no”; it does not make a design more intuitive. Apple is not the only company that is shifting to a more simplistic design approach; Microsoft shifted their design approach with the tiles on Windows 8. The “tiles” on the Windows 8 home screen are large solid colored blocks of information collected from various apps. These tiles are an extremely simple approach on how to easily convey information such as the weather or social media updates directly on the home screen.

The assumption that skeuomorphism is dead when it comes to web design is wrong. Although Apple is moving away from the use of skeuomorphic design elements, they are focusing their efforts to use skeuomorphism in the sense of creating a digital reality of how the user interacts with the app. Consider the movement of swiping to flip a page, or sliding a finger across a switch to turn it on and off. Both of these mimic real life interactions, but designers are realizing that the switch does not have to look like a physical light switch on a wall – it only has to look good!


Consider the differences between the two “click here” buttons above. Is there truly a need to have a glossy 3D button or is it enough to have a solid rectangle with a subtle shadow to give the appearance of a button? As web users become more and more technologically advanced, they will be able to understand these visual cues and this will allow designers to move away from the idea of representational skeuomorphism in a design sense. With that said, skeuomorphism will continue to be a relevant topic when considering to how the user interacts with the design.

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