Modern Trends are Killing the Skeuomorphism School of Design

In the early 2000s, skeuomorphism ruled supreme as the leading design trend in the world of mobile app designs. At that time, designers were looking for easy ways to make users feel at home when using mobile apps.

And if you had been living under rocks, Skeuomorph (skyoo-uh-morf) is derived from the Greek word skeuos that denotes tools and morph that denotes shapes. It is a design of software to mirror the image of a physical product.

A fair share of designers believe that Skeuomorphic app icons bring in a sense of familiarity and a dash of vintage feel to appeal to the emotions of the users. In fact, skeuomorphic designs make it easy for users to understand the function of an app icon by simply seeing the design which closely resembles to a physical object. However, over the years, the rise of modern design trends seem to have killed the school of skeuomorphism designs. Flat design, for example, is one design trend that didn’t just kill skeuomorphism and danced on its grave, but also destroyed its tombstone. Since then, it has lost much of its use for UI elements such as navigation bars and buttons.

Here, we reveal the insider story of the downfall of skeuomorphism, an analysis about the relevancy of skeuomorphism design, a take on the future of skeuomorphism and smattering on if flat design & skeuomorphism can live together.

What Caused The Downfall of Skeuomorphism?

Advent of Flat Design

The downfall of skeuomorphism started when flat design trends became popular in the designer community. Microsoft launched flat design icons with their Metro Design implication Even Apple, the original proponent of skeuomorphism too changed its iOS7 to flat design in 2013.

The rise of social media and mobile technologies slowly made people desensitized towards the intricate details, texture, dimension and shadows of the design. Graphic artists, therefore, came up with flat looking interfaces with really fewer details in order to make it all the more easy for the ever-so digitally connected generation. The focus was now shifted more on typography, color and subtle animation in order to enhance the overall user experience.

In a blog, designer Campbell Joef reveals that flat designs have long been the buzzword in the design fraternity. It’s no wonder as flat designs offer ever-so-connected users simple user interface that loads faster than ever. Moreover, responsive design became a necessity due to proliferation of smart phones and tablets that could not accommodate hundreds of images on small screens.

Skeuomorphic buttons produced blurry images across multiple screen sizes of smartphones and therefore, flat buttons replaced them. The emergence of flat design buttons and other interfaces became relevant and popular for businesses as they received a fair share of traffic from mobile phones.

One of the major reasons for quick fading away of skeuomorphic design elements was that they took up more space on the screen as compared to the standard user interface elements. This caused visual clutters. The layers of drop shadows and gradients, that gave a touch of realism to the old designs, were suddenly a hindrance in terms of showing up actual functionality of user interfaces. Another reason for doing away with old design patterns was that such realistic designs took a lot of time to download.

The Rise of Responsive Layouts

In one of his other blogs, designer Campbell Joef explains that responsive layouts have been the trend for last few years and there is no reason that it will fade away in next year. And tis fast growing trend of responsive layouts left little scope for skeuomorphism. Now, people are familiar with scroll-down layouts of desktop web pages. Hence, they want to scroll down a web page on mobile phones too. Many modern mobile phone users do not much care about how apps look as long as they depict functionality in their design. Users are more interested in scrolling down a page faster in order to get more and updated information on the go.

Responsive layouts included long-page design approach for mobile phones. Designers can take liberty in putting content above or below fold as per the specifications of their clients’ businesses. A major advantage of keeping content above the fold is that users can see important information at the very first glance. But that will also clutter up the page with too many intricate details and users have to click through many pages to get too little information.

The emphasis of creating scroll-down pages is to tell a story to the people in a subtle manner. And in the recent times, a lot of new design trends have emerged to make it easy for users. Some of these trends include use of bold and engaging imagery, subtle animations, leaving a lot of white space so that content stands out, fixed headers, infinite scrolling and call to action buttons throughout the page.

Is Skeuomorphism Still Relevant?

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the emergence of flat design and responsive layout killed skeuomorphism, danced on its grave and then, destroyed the last remaining traces of it. But today’s fashion savvy people seem to be hell bent on bringing skeuomorphism back from its grave. Critics say that minimal simplicity of flat design has snatched away the inherent charm and personality from user interfaces and website designs. On the other hand, elements of skeuomorphism such as shadow, shade and resemblance to familiar objects bring an appealing personality to interfaces.

In fact, Wells Riley reveals the so-called “end of flat design” in one of his blogs. He clearly explains that skeuomorphism is all set to make a comeback from its grave and this time with more impact than ever. He proposes skeuomorphs to represent 1:1 analogs to real-life objects to delight users and ensure affordance.

Ace designer, blogger, and social media enthusiast, Adrienne Erin explains in one of her blogs that skeuomorphism gives users clues on how to operate something. She believes that skeuomorphism is relevant today as realistic design still has an important place in today’s digital world.

Industry insiders believe that in a few years’ time down the line, the school of skeuomorphism design may again become the talk of the town in the world of graphic designs.

Will Skeuomorphism Die Forever?

Those who were praying for skeuomorphic interfaces to go away forever will be disappointed. recently revealed report about Apple releasing its much anticipated Apple Watch. And as soon as Apple launched it’s much anticipated Apple Watch with clock-like interface, several companies turned to the old-fashioned way of styling icons. In an article published at Fast Co Design, writer John Brownlee says, ’this revisiting of skeuomorphism is subtler, more sophisticated and tasteful than it was before. It’s most notable in the selection of real-world watch faces that can make your smartwatch look like a digital simulacrum of everything from an expensive Rolex to a cheap Swatch.’

Apple seems to have spurred a race amongst companies who have now started to actively incorporate some vital skeuomorphic elements to lend an appealing personality to their user interfaces. It’s no wonder as it’s relatively easy to make out what a skeuomorphic element is showcasing. Skeuomorphic designs illustrates great details, from drop shadows to textures and it is visually appealing in equal measures. In addition, skeuomorphic designs yield the power to draw in and engage users. Quite naturally, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that skeuomorphism isn’t going to die a fast death this time as people have awakened to the potential of skeuomorphism.

Can Flat Design & Skeuomorphism Live Together?

At some point of time, every fashion stages a comeback and this could be well argues about skeuomorphism too. Apple Watch clearly illustrates how one can mix modern designs with old skeuomorphic elements and create an exciting new design that never fails to impress and inspire. In fact, there has already been a lot of debate about the blend of skeuomorphic and flat design, recently.

It’s possible that the world of graphic design is bound to leapfrog skeuomorphic and flat designs, especially now when the use of mobile is on the rise. To prove that the blend of skeuomorphism and flat design can work wonders, cites the example of the newly released Google mobile apps that use skeuomorphism in a largely flat design space.

So, now when you’re in the process of creating a modern design. Do well to first use a flat design approach and highlight what’s most crucial in the design. Emphasizes vital design elements with bold and clear colors and typefaces. Then, add some skeuomorphic elements in the design with the purpose of summoning the undivided attention and interest of users to a particular section of your graphic design.

In short, flat design will bring modern user-friendly interfaces to the people, while skeuomorphic elements will ensure an awesome personality to your design and lend it a better user experience.

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