Skeuomorphism – the concept of drawing inspiration from real, physical objects for digital design – was championed by the undisputed leader of innovative design years ago and was still in use until iOS7 came out.
From icons to applications, everything bore the stamp of visual richness and the clear message that the digital application was meant to simulate the real world.Apple made leather-textured calendar apps and books with turnable pages. And we loved it…until now.
So why has skeuomorphic design suddenly gone out of fashion?
When designers began to create virtual objects, usability meant that people needed to understand what these objects were for and how they could interact with them. Bevelled edges indicated raised buttons that could be clicked and files looked like sheets of paper. And all this under the technology limitations of that age, when designers didn’t have the tools to overly decorate their design.
Once the tools improved, designers continued on the same trend, even though people didn’t need it anymore. They knew how to operate a desktop system and they knew how to interact with one, but like the real world, ornamental design became synonymous with richness and opulence when it could be very cheaply achieved.
This is when people and designers started realizing that function ranked higher than form. A well-designed user interface is not one with bells and whistles, but one where people instinctively knew what it was about and how to use it without obvious and gaudy visual cues. Microsoft sparked that trend in the recent past with Metro.
This simplicity of design was also spurred on by the fact that designers do not have the leeway to create large, nonflexible elements in a situation where responsive design is becoming the norm. Elements need to be usable in an array of screen sizes and resolutions.
So they went flat: tiles with no raised edges or shiny coating, and the use of only colour, spacing, font and content to make beautiful design. The tiles were also unlike icons in that they showed live content, a useful way to get snippets of data just by looking at the home screen.Apple also replaced its skeuomorphic elements like the life-like calculator with flat design that is more intuitive than true to realism with the launch of iOS7.
So it isn’t that skeuomorphic design is bad design. It is merely that users are evolving with technology, and usability has to be constantly rethought and redefined. Holding on to obsolete design ideas only limits this usability instead of improving it. Flat design is the next logical and aesthetic transition as we move towards interfaces that are nonintrusive and intuitive.