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More than 10 years ago Apple announced that it would abandon the traditional look of its mobile applications, which imitated objects from the real world, referencing the design skeuomorphic.

Steve Jobs until then believed that computers should be so easy to use that a complete novice could master them based solely on his instincts. he defended a design style in which digital elements resembled real-world objects that anyone could recognize.

Behind the screen was a desk where users could sort documents or throw them into the trash can, a cube-shaped icon. The idea is known as skeuomorphism, of course it predates Jobs and persists to this day.

And that is precisely where this report focuses. It will delve into this concept so that you know exactly what it consists of and realize that we are really surrounded by it.

What is skeuomorphism? Great examples in our daily life

Skeuomorphism is a design technique in which a software object imitates its real-world counterpart. The ‘trash can’ is perhaps the most recognizable skeuomorphic object. The old ‘save’ icon was, too, but after the floppy disappeared, it no longer looks like the world today.

We are talking about a term that derives from the Greek words skeuoswhich means ‘vessel’ or ‘tool’ and morpho, which means ‘shape’. The term dates back to the ancient Greek potters, who used realistic techniques to design clay pots giving them an “iron appearance.”

skeuomorphism began to take shape in the eighties. One of the first defenders of it was Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple. The idea was simple: computer interfaces would be much more intuitive for users if skeuomorphic design was applied.

Trash allowed users to drag things they didn’t want on their computers to a real trash. Files could be moved to folders (another real life equivalent). All this did not puzzle users in the computer or mobile phones because there was something to compare them to in real life.

James Gibson, a psychologist, once suggested that we perceive the world as a collection of affordances. A affordance is an object whose shape suggests how to use it. For example, think of a pair of scissors. Even if you’ve never seen one before, the holes tell us something needs to be inserted and the only logical things that fit are the fingers. Therefore, they are explanatory.

Skeuomorphism also represents affordances. It fits with the natural interpretation of objects, but in a digital world.

And it is that, in reality, there are great examples of skeuomorphisms. These are just some of them because really there are thousands:

  • The envelope is the symbol for email and SMS messages. Also, it offers a nice distinction between read and unread as they become open and unopened envelopes.
  • You can cut and paste into Microsoft programs like Word and Outlook using scissors and a clipboard.
  • The battery icon on phones, which could simply be a number or any other symbol, instead mimics physical batteries.
  • Another example is phone cameras. Although they do not have a mechanical shutter, they do emit a clicking sound similar to that of physical cameras.
  • The same can be said for online shopping carts, represented by real supermarket carts.

Skeuomorphisms in design: a review of its history

skeuomorphs took on a major role in design when computers became consumer products. Software companies developed the graphical user interface so that users could press buttons and menus, instead of having to enter commands.

To help users understand how to interact with this interface, the designers turned to real-world metaphors like skeuomorphs.

In general, it is considered Manzana pioneer of experience digital user, and skeuomorphism is an important part of it. Steve Jobs was one of the proponents of this style as a way to help users interact with products more intuitively.

Change from Skeuomorphism to Flat Design (iOS 7)

To him much credit is due for introducing the desktop metaphor to the masses, as well as realistic-looking controls for everything from iTunes to calculators.

The big problem came from the 2000s in which it seems that many users began to complain and many people in the world of technology ended up fed up with the excessive use of skeuomorphism in interface design.

In response to this, the last 8-10 years have seen the rise of a less realistic approach to design called flat design. This style replaces more realistic objects, shadows, and other elements with two-dimensional shapes and buttons.

Defenders of flat design argue that it allows you to design more efficient, simple and elegant interfaces. It is based on a classic grid system that can make flat interfaces neat and more aesthetic. A clear example can be seen with the change in the design of the Instagram logo.


Despite this design change, skeuomorphism has found its place again. There is talk of reaching a midpoint between flat design and this artistic concept.

The Nielsen Norman Group, one of the leading voices in usability research, gives the example that if you are using a flat design approach, it is a good idea to include some minimally realistic or skeuomorphic elements. For example, shadows can help users know when one element is in front of another and suggest interactivity.

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And it is that if you stop for a moment to think about a more “current” element, skeuomorphism can be found in smartwatches or smart watches. Smartwatch faces are designed to mimic the experience of an analog watch. Thus, when the user goes to see the time, the real world and the digital world are one.

In fact, it can be said that the smartwatch itself is skeuomorphic. It’s not a watch. It’s a computer. But it is a computer that is worn on the wrist.

Skeuomorphism vs. Flat Design: What’s the difference?

Skeuomorphism and flat design, as we have mentioned before, are two trends in user interface design that have been at odds. You already know the first one, but we want to explain the concept of flat design to you.

This style eschews shading and detail in favor of two-dimensional renderings to create a more minimalist design. The flat design improves text readability and easily adapts to screens and devices of different sizes.


The 3 big disadvantages of this concept

As we have already said, this design concept began to decline in the year 2000. From here, skeuomorphism went downhill. An entire generation got used to interacting with digital devices and didn’t need real-world design objects as a point of reference. Other disadvantages of this design include:

1. Skeuomorphic designs can appear messy and unsightly. Mimicking physical objects, right down to their shading, can make your screen design Interface be too crowded.


2. Skeuomorphic designs can be difficult to scale. The attention to detail in these designs makes it difficult to scale down the objects for smaller touch screen devices. If you include so much detail, things are uphill.

3. Analog objects can make skeuomorphic designs irrelevant. The skeuomorphism dependency of real world objects can become problematic when analog objects are no longer used. The floppy disk, for example, was shorthand for saving a digital document for many years, but it is no longer understandable to many young people.

This visual metaphor is no longer necessary

It has been widely debated whether users they have become so used to interacting with graphical user interfaces that skeuomorphism is no longer necessary.

Opponents of skeuomorphism argue that natural-looking objects can make an interface look cluttered, and that some of the objects mimicked in skeuomorphism are outdated and meaningless to users (for example, the floppy disk for the ‘Save’ action). ‘).


Its defenders, on the other hand, maintain that humans will never get used to the digital world as much as to the physical world, so simple skeuomorphism will continue to be useful.

skeuomorphism helped a generation overcome the learning curve of the digital age. But she also started to slow us down. We got familiar with the concepts and they got into the language and our daily lives, but the skeuomorphic design created a huge mess on the desktop. They brought too many useless details to our computers that we no longer needed.

There is now a whole generation that has never known a world without computers. The visual metaphor is no longer necessary.

In 2007, Forbes magazine announced the death of skeuomorphism. Apple (quickly followed by Google) had already opted for a new form of design: flat design. iOS 7 (2013) was Apple’s leap into the world of flat design and, from the point of view of user acceptance, it was a complete success. However, It seems that a middle point has now been reached.

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Varun Kumar

Varun Kumar is a freelance writer working on news website. He contributes to Our Blog and more. Wise also works in higher ed sustainability and previously in stream restoration. He loves running, trees and hanging out with her family.

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