There’s been a lot of debate in the design world lately about skeuomorphism. You may not be familiar with this term and I have to admit that it was new to me until a few months ago. By the way, it’s pronounced skyoo-a-morf and comes from the Greek words for tool and shape.

Basically, skeuomorphism is when some or all of the elements in a design look like the objects that they represent, rather than having a flat representational design. Skeuomorphic objects have digitally created textures (for example simulated woodgrain or leather stitching) that look just like the real thing.

Probably the best way to explain this is by giving you some examples. The most obvious one that comes to mind is the classic iBook bookshelf.

Classic example of a woodgrain texture
Skeuomorphic design
Just like the real thing.

Skeuomorphic designs are used used to give people the impression that the app or website is friendly and easy to use. Because we are familiar with the object being represented (we all know how buttons work after all),  we unconsciously believe that our interaction will be positive.

So why is there a debate?

Let’s start off by saying that in the design world  there are always debates between minimalists (people who like clean uncluttered design) and those who like more flourishes. I probably fall into the first category as I have quite a fondness for white space. Whilst I think that skeumorphic designs are friendly, (and very clever from a graphic design perspective), I don’t always find the apps on my iPad that easy to use and I often find this quite frustrating. It’s as if someone has put a lot of effort into making something look easy to use, but the reality is that sometimes it’s not really all that obvious how the darned thing works. It’s kind of like the app is saying ‘I’m so easy to use, any fool can work this out’ – except me, apparently. When I try and use an app with a lovely friendly interface, and I can’t figure out how it works, it’s somehow more frustrating than when I try to use an application that looks complicated.

Skeuomorphic design is definitely going out of favour in the graphic design world and flat design is coming back in, however it’s still really big in the e-learning world and it’s finding favour in presentation design lately. I’ve been seeing a fair few blackboards and corkboards popping up in presentations recently, so if you are looking for something to spice up your presentation you could have a play around with skeuomorphism. At least you’ll know how to pronounce it!


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