On Skeuomorphic Design.

Earlier today, Jim Dalrymple over at the Loop linked to an article promising a Showcase of “30 fantastic examples of iPad interface designs based on real life objects”.

But here’s the problem: they’re not fantastic examples at all.

Design is a very subjective thing, so let’s gloss over my personal opinions of the apps — that most of them are fricking ugly — and let me talk briefly about Skeuomorphism.

Skeuomorphism — a word that no one knew a year ago, and has since become a favourite buzz-word amongst designers — is mimicking an existing object’s form and function. For example, making an eBook app look like a physical book.

The thing about Skeuomorphism is that it should never be obtrusive: it should make apps easier to use by injecting a touch of the familiar.

But most of these apps don’t do that. It’s just adding noise that makes finding things in the app more difficult.

Take the “Synthesizer” app from that Showcase, for example.

The “wires” and “shadows” are covering over labels, making them impossible to read. I think this is one of the better looking apps, of the bunch, but they’ve made their app so much more difficult to use. It’s baffling to me that this made it out the door.

Other problems arise when the designer wants to have it both ways — to make a design skeuomorphic, but without adhering to the constraints set by the object they’re mimicking.

Apple’s Notes app is a good example of this. As is the “Home Cooking” app in the Showcase. Paper that scrolls and fades out content as it goes of the page. That doesn’t exist. It can’t exist. This isn’t Harry Potter. We don’t have enchanted paper.

You cannot have it both ways. You can’t make an app that looks like a printed page, but then defy the logic of printed pages.

If you’re going to go down the skeuomorphic route, you have to go all the way with it otherwise the design is wrong. If you want it to look like paper pages, fine. But you have to make it behave like paper pages.

I could go on, but I shan’t, else I’d be here all day.

About Lewis Dorigo

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