This iPad Interface Prefers “Real” Tools To Digital Ones

For a long time, iOS was criticized for its skeuomorphic interface–artifices like simulated green felt poker tables, wood grain bookshelves, and leather stitching trim on the screen. But now that Jony Ive oversees both software and hardware design, iOS has gutted this ornamental content one that ex-Apple employee labeled “visual masturbation.” 

But what if you really invested in skeuomorphism, all the way down to the core gestures you use to interact with an iPad?

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Scott Forstall Forced Out Of Apple: The End Of Skeuomorphs

Rumors have been flying about Senior Vice President of iOS Software Scott Forstall’s hurried departure from Apple. Among other misdeeds he apparently was unwilling to sign the iOS 6 Maps apology letter, leaving it to CEO Tim Cook.

From the viewpoint of someone who loves most Apple design, I am not surprised to learn that Forstall was the man behind the ugly ugly skeuomorphs in iOS and Mac OS X, like the stitched leather in Apple calendars. He and Jony Ive apparently couldn’t stand each other, and Ive will now be leading Apple’s user interface efforts.

Apple stock should shoot up on this news, but the average market analyst is unlikely to be able to parse the impact of this on Apple’s future.

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Post Flat Design

There’s been growing unrest about the future of interaction design trends. In the past week alone, I’ve read three separate discussions about the so-called “end of flat design.” This kind of talk is awesome because some of the best aesthetic and interaction design work is done at the dawn of a brand new trend. It gets designers thinking and inspires that special kind of creativity that our industry thrives on.

The pendulum swings

In the beginning, CSS only allowed for basic control over HTML documents. As web design technology grew up, the skeuomorphic aesthetic took hold, pushing the boundaries of what was possible on the Web. But as the style matured, some interfaces became difficult to use, confusing, or downright ugly. We abused the textures, shadows, and fine details that helped us define our industry. Designers wanted something fresh and simple to replace it.

The flat movement was born out of a need to get as far away from skeuomorphism as possible. Shadows and metallic sheen were replaced with solid hues and typography-driven design. It was a harken back to the Swiss ‘international style’ of design where strong typography and blocks of color reigned supreme in print.

But perhaps the pendulum swung too far in the flat direction. In the transition to flat we lost some of the helpful affordances – especially on buttons and forms – that more traditional aesthetics used to make our products easy to use. When everything became flat, creating a clear visual hierarchy became a constant challenge.

Can you tell which Shift key is enabled?

Flat has been the predominant visual style for over a year, and some brilliant work has come out of it. But it’s clear that now it’s time to let the pendulum swing back – if even only a little bit.

Post Flat

I propose post flat design – not just as a new way of thinking about design aesthetic – but also creating sensible visual hierarchy and more understandable interfaces for our users. Some qualities of a post flat interface may include:

  • Hierarchy defined using size, and composition along with color.
  • Affordant buttons, forms, and interactive elements
  • Skeuomorphs to represent 1:1 analogs to real-life objects (the curl of an e-book page, for example) in the name of user delight or affordance
  • Strong emphasis on content, not ornamentation
  • Beautiful, readable typography

Both skeuomorphic and flat extremes have uniquely beautiful and useful qualities, but merging the two styles allows us to leverage the strengths of both. For example, a mobile app might have dimensional buttons instead of colored text to represent primary actions within the interface.

Flaer by Brian Benitez

Without strict visual requirements associated with flat design, post flat offers designers tons of variety to explore new aesthetics – informed by the best qualities of skeuomorphic and flat design. Designers won’t have to sacrifice usability to “fit in” with the latest trend.

Light and Switch by Sebastien Gabriel

Animated Safari Icon by Ray

Let’s try this out. Dust off your drop shadows and gradients, and introduce them to your flat color buttons and icons. Do your absolute best work without feeling restricted to a single aesthetic. Bring variety, creativity, and delight back to your interfaces. We’re trying some exciting things here at Collective Ray in the spirit of post flat design – it’s a refreshing and exciting challenge.
Clive Thompson: Retro design is crippling innovation

While I appriciate the beauty and functionality of Apple products, this is one reason I think their UI design is overrated (too much faux chrome, stitched leather, etc.):


When we get to the last week of this month, open your Google Calendar and choose the month view. You will see the previous three weeks are greyed out. Only the next few days will be “active”. If you want to see what you’ve got planned for more than the next couple of days, you’ll have to flip forward to next month.

Now ask yourself this: why does Google Calendar – and nearly every other digital calendar, come to that – work in this way? It’s a strange waste of space, forcing you to look at three weeks of the past. Those weeks are largely irrelevant now. A digital calendar could be much more clever; it could reformat on the fly, putting the current week at the top of the screen, so that you always see the next three weeks at a glance.

Why don’t computer calendars work like that? Because they’re governed by skeuomorphs –bits of design that are based on old-fashioned, physical objects. As Google Calendar shows, skeuomorphs are hobbling innovation by lashing designers to metaphors of the past. Unless we start weaning ourselves off these defunct models, we will fail to produce digital tools that harness what computers do best.

Now, skeuomorphs aren’t always bad. They exist partly to orient us to new technologies. As literary critic N Katherine Hayles nicely puts it, they are “threshold devices, smoothing the transition between one conceptual constellation and another”. The Kindle is easy to use precisely because it behaves so much like a traditional print book.

But just as often, skeuomorphs kick around long past the point of reason. Early motorcars often included a buggy-whip holder on the dashboard – a useless fillip that designers couldn’t bear to part with.

Despite being lauded for design, Apple is the reigning champion in this field, producing a conga line of skeuomorphs that are by turns baffling and annoying. Its iPhone app, Find My Friends, includes astonishingly ugly, faux stitched leather that wastes screen space. On the new iCal for the Macintosh, things are odder yet: when you page forward, the sheet for the previous month rips off and floats away, an animation so artless you’d swear it was designed personally by Bill Gates.

In contrast, digital designers who step away from skeuomorphs often produce amazingly clever concepts. Consider Soulver, a calculator for the Mac. It was designed by two 18-year-old Australians who decided that most computer calculators were far too derivative. They created a genuinely new interface. You type English commands like “20 per cent of £13.80” or “£45 for dinner + 15 per cent tip”, and Soulver displays the answer.

The duo harnessed a unique aspect of the computer – the ability to decode natural language – to produce a richer, easier-to-use application. “We said, let’s just throw out the physical nature of calculators and take advantage of computers’ powerful capacities,” Soulver co-creator Zac Cohan says.

Then there’s Flipboard, the iOS app for browsing status updates, pictures and news. Normally, pages in ebooks and emagazines either scroll or flip in emulation of the way print paper does. But Flipboard’s pages do something odd: they pivot at the centre of the page instead of on the left side like almost any print publication. This minimises the rate at which material changes onscreen during the flip, reducing the eye fatigue that comes from scrolling or making sudden full-page swipes.

“It requires far less energy than a scroll or a slide or a screen flash,” says Craig Mod, a Flipboard designer, adding wryly: “It’s a sort of a cyberpunk page.” Once designers unhinge their imaginations from skeuomorphs, we’ll see ever more subtle, cunning concepts like this.

And if you really need to flip paper pages on your calendar? Buy a handmade one – and hey, get some nice-quality pencils. Let paper work like paper and screens like screens.

Clive Thompson is a columnist in the US edition of Wired and a contributing writer for the New York Times magazine

Software Design Approach At Apple Changing?

What sort of progress has been made in Apple’s new approach to design since Jonny Ive has started to influence the software side of things? Not much, yet.

Jessica Lessin, Apple Design Teams Get Cozier

Some suggested that in Apple’s next mobile operating system, Ive is pushing a more “flat design” that is starker and simpler, according to developers who have spoken to Apple employees but didn’t have further details. Overall, they expect any changes to be pretty conservative. For the past few years, Apple has unveiled versions of its mobile operating system in the summer.

Design is one example of the increased “collaboration across hardware, software and services” that Apple said it was aiming for when Cook pushed senior vice president and mobile software chief Scott Forstall out of the company last year.

The move united Apple’s Mac and iOS software teams under senior vice president Craig Federighi. Change in that new group is happening slowly.

Federighi has indicated to some employees that he plans to keep the Mac and iOS engineering teams separate for now, one of the people said. There is lots of overlap between the two groups, such as two teams working on calendar software; whether the two would be combined after Federighi took over both was a big question among employees in the division, the people close to the company say. One of the people said that some employees are expecting further reorganization of the two groups this summer.

Sounds like we should look at the next round of calendar software to see what ‘flat design’ means. At the very least, can we get rid of the dumb skeuomorphs, like leather and stitching? Here’s a mock-up:
Familiarity Shouldn't Block Creativity in Haptics

THE animated turning of pages in a digital magazine, the whir of a camera shutter when you snap a smartphone picture. Designers have a word for such ornaments, taken from the old and grafted onto the new: skeuomorphs.

Detractors say skeuomorphs represent the triumph of familiarity over function. Why make an electronic notepad look as though it is leather-bound?

But their defenders say that’s exactly the point: you may be able to simply swipe through a document, but the riffle of virtual pages is reassuring to newbies.

Now, the advent of textured screens and web pages promises a whole new wave of skeuomorphism: that leather binding will not only look like leather, it will feel like it too.

Such familiar sensations will no doubt be welcome as we get to grips with haptic devices. But skeuomorphs tend to outstay their welcome, sometimes persisting even after their originals become obsolete - like those whirring camera shutters


Android 5.0 Lollipop review

Jony Ive’s mission at Apple was to get rid of skeuomorphism, where digital things imitate real-world objects. In doing so, he created a beautiful but cold crystal palace of colorless, translucent planes. Android designer Matias Duarte at Google, on the other hand, has built the Emerald City. Lollipop has more skeuomorphism than ever before, except the reality being imitated here isn’t real at all. It’s like waking up in Kansas and discovering that everything is still in color and your slippers are still very much a deep shade of ruby red.
"People want their own Eiffel Towers to stick in boxes."

Joanne McNeil on why we still feel the need to photograph things that have been photographed millions of times before us:

Photographs that prove the existence of the Eiffel Tower more importantly prove the photographer’s existence — your existence (whom among us has never taken a photograph?) You were there, this was your vantage point, you closed your eyes and heard the click of the skeuomorphic shutter sound. The moment was yours alone. The souvenir of it may look like the images of a billion others, but they didn’t eat your lunch, they didn’t wear your clothes, they don’t have your dreams, your work, your lovelife, your sorrow. Images are always linked with contextual metadata of the mind. That is why, even when it costs something, people want their own Eiffel Towers to stick in boxes.

Also great:

A picture is a vessel for a moment. If the past fails to fill it with value, a second glance in the present might post-date it with a better reason for existing.

A picture bookmarks a moment, from someone and somewhere. It might look like nothing, it might look like billions that came before it, but there was a reason it happened. The reason may be as simple as why a person standing in the sun casts a shadow.

What a fantastic way to put it.

17 Skeuomorphs That Show Retro Is Always In

In 1889, H. Colley March noticed that some ancient artifacts had a retro look. They imitated—just for show—elements from older objects. Bronze axes had “thong-work” like flint axes. Pottery bowls had patterns resembling basket weaving. March coined the term skeuomorph(SKYOO-uh-morf), from Greek skéuos (container or tool) and morphḗ (shape), for these design throwbacks. But skeuomorphs aren’t confined to museums. Look around and you’ll find them everywhere.


{Web Design} Lina Gonzalez for Bruno Mars and Atlantic Records

“Inspired by the classic detailing of vintage jukeboxes, the site’s design is a skeuomorphic homage to analog technologies. The site was conceptualized, designed, and built in close collaboration with a development team, UX Designer, Digital Marketer, Product Manager and Bruno’s management. Parallax scrolling reveals each section of the site, moving between lines of TV static.”

(Click on the photos for captions)