Skeuomorphism vs Flat design

The demise of design? Or the dawn of a new era?

Skeuomorphism – big word isn’t it! One which has governed all sorts of industries but particularly web design for many years. In general terms, the use of skeuomorph is to make things look like something they’re not. Nothing new, it’s been around for centuries; fake wood trim on cars, mock marbling on a wooden fire surround…

Translated into the graphic design sense, Photoshop brought us opportunities beyond our wildest dreams. Now we could make a clock look like a real one, on a wall! Switches that actually glow and have a proper shadow; reminder lists that look like notepaper with holes down the left for the ringbinder.

The biggest benefit though is the way it’s moulded how we interact with sites and latterly, tablet apps and our phones. My mum can easily find her photos, they’re stored behind a button that looks like a photo album and her calendar is behind a button that looks like… anyhow, you have the idea.

It’s brought us a lot more than pretty buttons though; icons that are now universally recognised, an envelope for email, a wastepaper bin for stuff you’re throwing away. We’ve grasped the idea of these now though and for years now clients have been demanding more difficult and complex uses of the icons. Latterly though, I think that comes down to how skilled you are in Photoshop and not how well you can design.

It’s a brave person that’s bucked the trend, done away with photorealism and proposed a design concept using flat, solid colours; but it works. Suddenly everything looks fresh and simple to the eye. I think our demand for pure functionality now demands it. We don’t need calculators with realistic buttons – flat ones with a number on will be just fine. The Microsoft Metro look and Apple’s iOS7 have made their mark in helping the concept become widely accepted and I’m glad to see that a lot of website design agencies are embracing this new look.

Gone are the gradients, the overuse of ‘bevel and emboss’ for navigation bars, the ‘leather stitching’ and making buttons appear to pop out of the page and for now, I’m glad. Skeuomorphism has done us proud and still has its uses but our interaction with sites and apps has evolved and from a UI perspective, I’m a firm believer that it’s time to move on.