Skeuomorphism vs Flat Icon Design
While the advancements in technology keep jumping into the future, the success of most of these technological upgrades in based on how the consumers view it – do they find it attractive, inviting and easy-to-use? Most of these questions relate to the design and appearance of the technology or product. Irrespective of the inventor’s vision, the eventual adoption of any technological change requires the audience to undertake the process of understanding, accepting and replacing something – all of which are much easier and effortless when the interface of the product is intuitive, easy and attractive.
This is why app developers spend countless hours trying to come up with scrupulous designs that will penetrate the masses and allow them to appreciate what they are being offered. Even a basic surface-level observation of interface design in smartphones over the past decade will illuminate the impact the design has made on products, expressing the growing trend of minimalism. But, in order to gain the perfect understanding of this design, it is important to delve into the fundamental types of design that have been used in the past and understand the evolution of these designs.
A term that refers to the idea of mimicking specific symbols or signs in order to associate with the user, skeuomorphism has often been used to ease users into new technology while maintaining a hook or symbolic association with the past technology. Take Apple’s iOS when it was initially launched – the envelope sign in the mail app, the ancient-looking telephone in the phone app, or even the shiny gloss finish to make the apps buttons look clickable are all skeuomorphism of different types. Skeuomorphs add familiarity to alien and novel concepts so that users develop an association with those symbols that are related to their past. Many even contend that the intuitiveness of Apple’s initial design when the iPhone was introduced to the world was courtesy of subtle skeuomorphism in several facets of their interface.
While this connect was important for the time when masses were being introduced to this technological leap, the same is considered to be the most effective anymore. This is because when it comes to UI performance and parameters like scalability and navigability, skeuomorphism does not seem to be the right fit. Many suggest that the design style sacrificed ease of use while also heavily relying on strictly defined proportions and ratios. This made skeuomorphism trail other designs in the factor of adaptability. This is why UI design moved toward flat icons and scalable designs that were more indicative and ambiguous. However, you will see it employed for most gadgets that are new introductions – like wearables and e-readers.
The kind of design that focuses on the facets of simple grid-based clean content hierarchy and typography is called flat design. It is characterized by minimal elements, no extra effects like highlights and shadows, and a focus on typography. The biggest indicator of a switch in design philosophies was when Apple rolled out their iOS 7 in 2013, switching from the employment of a suggestive symbol-based design to a flatter and more simplistic design. Flat designs are based on Swiss styles based on clean and minimal fundamentals. It includes basic elements, minimal effects, typography, colors, and hues.
Flat design is used very commonly in most interfaces these days and it is considered to be the most flexible and adaptive of interfaces. The impact of the design elements on performance is also pertinent owing to the load of the design on the performance of the device. Flat design has been used to optimize performance across different interfaces quite commonly.
Rolled out by Google in 2014, material design can be viewed as a mix of flat design along with skeuomorphic elements. This was introduced in order to create a unifying system that can be used across platforms and differently sized devices while maintaining a minimal and simplistic feel. There were certain principles that were set forth in order to achieve this: no overlap between pieces of “material”; complete opacity of all elements in this “material”; and no folding or bending of elements in this “material”. This design has been seen to be the driving force of the seamless experience that Google has developed across platforms and devices in the past couple of years.
When it comes to performance, Google has done well to optimize the interface for sustained performance, but the animations used within the interface are often cited as the reason why there is a lot of overhead in phones that don’t have the fastest processors. It might lead to a jerky and uncomfortable overall experience.
Is Skeumorphism really dead?
The switches in your settings app in Ios devices to turn functions on and off – that’s skeuomorphism.
Even the buttons that are an important element of Material Design are skeuomorphism.
The tabs on a web browser that are used to flick from page to page – that’s skeuomorphism.
The principles of skeumorphism never went away. And with a wave of VR and AR experiences around the corner, the return of this once ubiquitous design trend can’t come at a better time.