Apple designers reportedly divided over use of skeuomorphic UIs

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 2014
Apple's slow push toward skeuomorphic interfaces in its iOS and OS X platforms is reportedly a polarizing topic within the halls of One Infinite Loop, and a new report claims company cofounder Steve Jobs was one of the first proponents of the controversial design scheme.

An in-depth report from Fast Company says that while Apple's products have enjoyed consistent critical acclaim, an undercurrent of discontent has been slowly gaining momentum regarding the company's design direction, namely the inclusion of skeuomorphic interfaces.

Skeuomorphism, as it applies to computer software, is the use of ornamental design elements that represent familiar objects in the digital realm. The technique was first implemented by software designers to help ease users into the unfamiliar world of computing. For example, digital folders are represented by folder icons and contacts lists can be displayed in a virtual agenda.

Find My Friends


Some say the ornamental flourishes have become a non-functional extra that merely adds clutter to an otherwise clean interface, something that is necessary especially for small-screened devices like the iPhone.

"It?s visual masturbation," said a former senior UI designer at Apple, who reportedly worked closely with cofounder Steve Jobs. "It?s like the designers are flexing their muscles to show you how good of a visual rendering they can do of a physical object. Who cares?"

Critics say Apple's use of skeuomorphic design is too pervasive, overstepping its intended purpose to simplify a user's experience and in some cases actually causes confusion. The Notes app's yellow sketchpad and the stitched-leather theme found in a number of newer iOS apps are examples of non-functional design.

Internally, higher ups like SVP of Industrial Design Jony Ive are said to oppose the push toward skeuomorphic design, while the movement supposedly has the support of iOS chief Scott Forstall. Apple cofounder Steve Jobs is thought to be one of the first proponents of the design change, evidenced in the Game Center app.

"Steve pushed very hard to have everything--the felt-cloth table, the game chips--look like they would in real life," said another former Apple designer. "Internally, a lot of people were shocked by the richness. Many think it?s gone too far."

Game Center


One app in particular shows how the move to skeumorphic interfaces affects an app's usability. Calendar for the iPhone employs a clean, no-frills UI that easy to navigate with one hand. The OS X and iPad counterparts, however, implement skeuomorphic elements resembling a classic wall-hanging calendar. While easily recognizable, it can be argued the interface is somewhat clunky.

"iCal?s leather-stitching was literally based on a texture in his Gulfstream jet," the former designer said. "There was lots of internal email among UI designers at Apple saying this was just embarrassing, just terrible."

iPad Calendar


When such an interface is used, designers are restricted by the limitations of that medium and in the case of iCal, that means turning pages and having traditional year, month, week and day views. If a completely new system is developed, much like the iPhone's simple yet intuitive Calendar app, designers are free to explore and invent new ways of presenting data.

iPhone Calendar


As consumers become increasingly tech-savvy, skeumorphism has in many instances been replaced with abstract icons, examples of which can be found in Apple's own iOS. Instead of the familiar folders, the mobile operating system allows developers to create their own iconography, usually taking the form of a company logo or cartoon illustration. Skeuomorphism is seen by some as a regression to the advancements made in UI design.

"I?ve come to absolutely dislike this trend in user interface toward skeuomorphism," said noted designer Yves B?har. "Using reality as a visual metaphor for the user interface rather than make the UI function on its own terms is something that has irked me for quite a while."

Behar takes particular issue with the wooden bookshelves in Apple's iBooks and Newsstand apps.

"The digital bookshelf doesn?t really work like a bookshelf," Behar said. "You?re throwing all this extraneous visual noise at me and it?s confusing. My brain, which is used to the physical bookshelf, is confused because of the differences in usability. It?s cute, but not particularly useful."

iBooks


Apple will debut a number of new skeuomorphic features when it launches the next-generation iOS 6, including a virtual paper shredder built in to the Passbook digital coupon organization app.

"I feel like [Apple] has concentrated too much on mimicking the visual skeuomorphic approach rather than concentrating on the actual functionality," said the former Apple designer. "To me, it?s lipstick on a pig. There?s no need to add glitter if the product can stand on its own."

Versions of Apple's iOS 6 for iDevices are expected to debut alongside a next-generation iPhone at a special event on Wednesday.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 122
    I think it depends on what the software is and it doesn't need to be system wide.

    I think the bookshelf in iBooks looks great. I think the leather effect in the calendar looks shit.

    When all is said and done, all this comes down to personal preference.
  • Reply 2 of 122


    Sure know how to pick articles that'll get the most comments, don't they… 





    "I feel like [Apple] has concentrated too much on mimicking the visual skeuomorphic approach rather than concentrating on the actual functionality," said the former Apple designer. "To me, it?s lipstick on a pig," says the source intimately familiar with Apple?s design process. "There?s no need to add glitter if the product can stand on its own."


     


    Pretty sure he means the opposite.

  • Reply 3 of 122
    auxioauxio Posts: 1,975member
    Another negative point is that it also bloats apps because they need to include multiple versions all those texture images for different resolution displays.
  • Reply 4 of 122
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,719member
    Man AI is stretching here yet again for artificial news. Just because it is a slow news day doesn't mean you have to create news out of nothing. Sure the NY Times does it, but realize they serve a stupid population.
  • Reply 5 of 122
    gazoobeegazoobee Posts: 3,754member


    The whole article is a bit one sided here.  You didn't have enough space to even mention the positive side of skeuomorphism?  No time for background on the reasons why Jobs thought this was a good idea?  


     


    Personally a lot of it gets to me also, but the many many articles on how "bad" it is, penned by tech-heads who don't actually have any of the problems that this kind of design tries to solve are starting to be a bit of a pain in the ass also.  


     


    How about a reasoned discussion of the pros and cons as well as some acknowledgement of the fact that a great deal of the audience for Apple's iOS products is actually not a bunch of computer nerds (or design nerds for that matter), but in fact people who have never, ever, used a computer before?  


     


    I also find it interesting that while the most egregious examples of it are probably the yellow paper in Notepad and the shelves in the book apps, no one ever complains about that.  All we get is endless complaints about the calendar app.  Why?  Because nerds use calendars a lot.  

  • Reply 6 of 122
    It's definitely gone too far. To the point I now quite often click on the address book icon when I want the calendar app because it's the same fawn colour as calendar's new UI. It's unnecessary frippery. Snow leopard was visually the prettiest OS IMO, but then again I use Tinker Tool to turn the 3d dock off so what do I know...
  • Reply 6 of 122
    Personally, I don't like them mainly because they detract from a singular stylized OS. Many feel a bit childish and dated, unlike OSX which is mostly very clean, moden. Even the little things like pull down notifications have a texture that don't really match, different designs all over the place.
    I'd like to see a major overhaul to all the core programs as well as the general OS, think it's time to update beyond the basics, much of which was designed 6 years ago.
  • Reply 8 of 122
    gazoobeegazoobee Posts: 3,754member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post


    Sure know how to pick articles that'll get the most comments, don't they… 


     


    Pretty sure he means the opposite.



     


    He's definitely using "lipstick on a pig" incorrectly if that's what you mean. 

  • Reply 9 of 122
    I think it has gone too far as well. I would rather have a clean, modern look. I don't need to be fooled into thinking I'm using something in the real world.
  • Reply 10 of 122
    auxioauxio Posts: 1,975member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by september11th View Post



    Personally, I don't like them mainly because they detract from a singular stylized OS. Many feel a bit childish and dated, unlike OSX which is mostly very clean, moden. Even the little things like pull down notifications have a texture that don't really match, different designs all over the place.

    I'd like to see a major overhaul to all the core programs as well as the general OS, think it's time to update beyond the basics, much of which was designed 6 years ago.


    The problem isn't that it was designed 6 years ago, the problem is that they made it so that you have to customize the look of all of the fundamental UI elements (tables, buttons, etc) if you want your app to look polished.  In fact, they were promoting that at all of the iOS development talks.  So everyone took it in their own direction, and that's why it's become such a mishmash of styles without much consistency.  It feels a lot like a Windows desktop in that regard.

  • Reply 11 of 122


    While I don't mind Skeuomorphism when properly implemented, I agree that it's getting out of hand. OSX and iPad apps are starting to look more like Microsoft BoB than the clean, usable interface both are known for.

  • Reply 12 of 122


    Skeuomorphic interfaces make no sense to me.  You can't touch the object because it is not tangible, not real.  Additionally, Apple is forcing it's designs on a majority of people who, like me, do not like shit brown leather calendars or grandpa's wood and felt game tables.  Why stop there?  How about some wafting cigar smoke across the screen and some Dean Martin singing in the background?

  • Reply 13 of 122
    Who cares what a few egotistical designers think?

    I like skeuomorphism and welcome its further development. Perhaps is "fails" only in the cases where it hasn't gone *far enough* towards realism--the purpose of which is to communicate visually and more effectively and intuitively how to control and interpret the app.

    Objections to such may be borne simply from the designer's laziness or ineptitude in creating adequate realism in the UI.
  • Reply 14 of 122
    gazoobeegazoobee Posts: 3,754member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by bdkennedy1 View Post


    Skeuomorphic interfaces make no sense to me.  You can't touch the object because it is not tangible, not real.  Additionally, Apple is forcing it's designs on a majority of people who, like me, do not like shit brown leather calendars or grandpa's wood and felt game tables.  Why stop there?  How about some wafting cigar smoke across the screen and some Dean Martin singing in the background?



     


    a) You're just making shit up, (in fact you have no idea how many people like/dislike the designs).


     


    b) the smoke and Dean Martin thing would be pretty cool! 

  • Reply 15 of 122
    There's no need to add glitter if the product can stand on its own.

    This one bothers me because I've heard and seen this for decades from coders that have absolutely no class or taste. Part of the product is the glitter. You wouldn't buy a new car without paint or with different color panels that were thrown on even though it wouldn't affect the performance. You don't want to eat a burger that looks like it was abused by the cooking staff instead of looking like the photo on the menu even though it wouldn't affect the flavour. The little things are important to a product which is why Apple has the most mindshare in every HW category they are in.

    I think it has gone too far as well. I would rather have a clean, modern look. I don't need to be fooled into thinking I'm using something in the real world.

    The goal shouldn't be to fool you but to make something more usable because it's already familiar to you because of the item in the real world. There are much, much worse examples of this outside of Apple but Apple does appear to be pulling toward it more with Mac OS X.
  • Reply 16 of 122

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by bdkennedy1 View Post


    Skeuomorphic interfaces make no sense to me.  You can't touch the object because it is not tangible, not real.  Additionally, Apple is forcing it's designs on a majority of people who, like me, do not like shit brown leather calendars or grandpa's wood and felt game tables.  Why stop there?  How about some wafting cigar smoke across the screen and some Dean Martin singing in the background?



     


    I think that's the key.  I actually like the Notepad's yellow pages - but then I'm an attorney and I have lots of little yellow tablets all over my desk.  And if someone wants to put a little fake spiral on the side of something with pages, I don't really care.


     


    But when you go further, you get into personal tastes and style -- a brown leather calendar instead of black leather, or aluminum, or just plain simple design -- and then you've gone too far.  It both turns some people off, and subconsciously ticks off others who probably have no clue why some app or program simply rubs them the wrong way.

  • Reply 17 of 122
    bdkennedy1 wrote: »
    Skeuomorphic interfaces make no sense to me.

    You really can't understand how the turning page effect in iBooks (also an API in Xcode) could be useful for users?
    You can't touch the object because it is not tangible, not real.

    And yet when I touch the screen the page effect works as I would expect it to in the real world.
  • Reply 18 of 122


    Originally Posted by Gazoobee View Post

    He's definitely using "lipstick on a pig" incorrectly if that's what you mean. 


     


    Yep. It's a 'pig on lipstick' by his belief.

  • Reply 19 of 122
    This is all about the personal opinions of a very narrow coterie of elitist designers, who are definitely not the target of this design philosophy. Time and again these BS merchants fail to appreciate the minority of their position, and that for all the eventful drama of the smartphone revolution the iPhone kicked off in 2007, the genre is still in its relative growth infancy and needs to attract even more "newbies" into its fold.

    Skeuomorphism, like it or not (I do, but that's irrelevant) brings familiarity, fun and context to otherwise sterile and baffling application environments which would all look the same without it (e.g. one has to glance at the top of an iWork window to remind oneself which app is being worked on).

    Children, autistics and the elderly seem to intuitively take to the iOS UI easily enough, and that's no trivial observation. That's good enough for me.

    Endgame will occur in a year's time, when every other mobile OS suddenly "adopts" Skeuomorphism, at which time the same anal-retentives poo-pooing it now will start proclaiming its obviousness, and how "there is no other way" to enhance and differentiate context...
  • Reply 20 of 122
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 5,116member


    I love skeumorphism if dont well. It beats having a damn text list over a white background in every app. Not only does it give personality, it reminds users what app they're in, keeps the environment unique,  and creates a connection with real life objects which is extremely important both functionally and visually. Now, not every app has to be skeuomorphic (ie. I don't care for it on the calendar) but that doesnt mean that skeumorphism itself is bad. I actually like it in most of Apple's apps, like the bookstore, etc. 

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