Can We Please Move Past Apple’s Silly, Faux-Real UIs? | Tom Hobbs | May 30, 2012 | Fast Company Co.Design

Skeuomorphism by designers make user interfaces intuitive from real world metaphors, but may get in the way of newer innovative presentations.

[The] philosophy that drives the majority of contemporary UIs is called skeuomorphism. Derived from the Greek words Skeuos, meaning vessel or tool, and morph, meaning shape, a skeuomorph is, according to the Oxford Dictionary, a “derivative object that retains ornamental design cues to a structure that was necessary in the original.” The term can apply to either a physical or digital creation. In other words, it means to replicate the form and material qualities of something that are no longer inherently necessary, all with the objective of making new designs “look comfortably old and familiar,” Nicholas Gessler writes in “Skeuomorphs and Cultural Algorithms.” When applied to UI, the logic here is that it will make the interface more intuitive and usable, as the user will understand how it functions based on their knowledge of the analog object it is replicating.

There is validity to a skeuomorphic approach. To create any good interface, it is essential for the designer to understand the cognitive models that a user brings to any new product. Designers have to take into account the conventions and operational principles of the products and services that the users are familiar with, even if it is simply just to know how to evolve. Clearly a great deal of objects and tools we use could do with the attention of a good designer or design team, but there are also plenty of highly refined design solutions that embody fundamental design principles, conventions, and years of collective refinement that there’s no need to attempt to reinvent the wheel. The e-ink–screened Kindles are examples of how this was done with great success. The products carry over just enough of the fundamentals of editorial design and the conventions of physical books–that took 400 years to evolve–to make it feel appealing to avid readers and comfortable for them to use.


Unfortunately, the iPad book app doesn’t achieve this level of sophistication. It’s much more theatrical (as someone probably felt the need to take advantage of that fantastic color screen). The app employs elements like an overly rendered paper texture and faux page-turn animations that make it difficult to become quite as immersed in the prose of an author as the Kindle’s e-ink design allows. In many ways, the iPad book app feels like it was designed with the intention to look simply like a book, whereas it appears the Kindle was intended to feel like a book for those who love to read and want to.

Can We Please Move Past Apple's Silly, Faux-Real UIs? | Co.Design: business + innovation + design



The issue is that when people are critical and thoughtful enough to conceive new ways of instantiating interactions, truly interesting things start to happen. Take Soulver, a Mac-based calculator that does away with the standard method of simulating the typical layout of calculator hardware. Instead, the design harnesses the advantages of computers to understand natural language. Rather than entering equations using a grid of buttons, calculations are done by entering phrases: “$45 for dinner + 15% tip” is certainly a lot more intuitive than figuring out the right series of buttons to press to calculate: ((45/100)*15)+45. However, this Soulver is primarily about addressing the function of a calculator, with the layout changing by default. It doesn’t inherently negate using realistic rendering within the UI.

Soulver's ingenious, natural language approach to calculation

Can We Please Move Past Apple’s Silly, Faux-Real UIs? | Tom Hobbs | May 30, 2012 | Fast Company Co.Design at

Uncovered as a pointer from “Will Apple’s Tacky Software-Design Philosophy Cause A Revolt?” | Austin Carr | September 11, 2012 | Fast Company Co.Design at