Apple Skeuomorphism Reconstructed In 3-D


Before the facelift of iOS 7, Apple took a lot of flack—much of it from us—for its cheesy use of skeuomorphism, or the ways it would imitate real world textures, like the wood grain shelving in iBooks or the green felt tables in Game Center.

A new video called Skew, by a group of Kingston University animation students, reimagines Apple interfaces as if they were a physical puppet show of sorts. Using enlarged models built from medium-density fiberboard, card stock, and paper, the designers recreate an Apple app like Newsstand with real pages turning. A small-scaled village with two red dots mimics the mapping interface. And as interface elements fly in and out, they are actual boards and papers being manipulated by hand.

The goal? To "turn skeuomorphism on its head," according to participant Doug Hindson. What they've created here is a cognitive dissonance by mirroring iOS through its real-world cues. Hindson himself views skeuomorphism as a design fad (but concedes that there is "a whole lot of charm" to those now-dated designs).

Indeed, that skeuomorphic charm grows exponentially when you see iOS reconstructed in 3-D materials. I personally love, not just the authentic textures, but the imprecision of the interface animations. Icons and screens move with imperfect, but completely real inertia, unlike interfaces of today which are prized above all else for being "fast" or "fluid."

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In fact, I can’t help but wonder if some of Skew’s whimsy could make its way back into user interfaces. (Hindson is skeptical.)

But truth is, while we may have grown tired of skeuomorphic textures, skeuomorphic physics—say, icons that bounce like real-world objects might—are alive and well.

To mix these simulated physics with an element of imperfection, a sort of buffer of real-world imprecision within UI animations, could help accomplish what digital skeuomorphism was originally intended to do: Make virtual interfaces feel more real and thereby more approachable.

See more here.

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  • The Complainer

    Yes, much of the old UI was inconsistent and cheesy. However, the narrow, ultra-light typeface in combination with the overuse of cyan and other low-contrast colors makes it very difficult to achieve basic usability for most eyes over 45. If the purpose was to improve usability, the endeavor is a failure. If the objective was to redesign the product for achieve a more fashionable, elegant interface, the project also fails, as the use of cartoon colors is neither sophisticated nor fashionable. However, if Apple was looking to retain its share of the global "youth" market, which falling rapidly for several years, they have evidently been at least a little successful. The UI of iOS 7 may be "new for the sake of new," but it definitely holds a great deal of appeal to the 11-18 year-old set. Perhaps, Apple night look to Android, and almost every other consumer product out there, for a little guidance. It's called "segmentation." Consider it. Give the 50-year-old investment bankers an interface that increases their efficiency, while elegantly complimenting their Zenga suits—and give the 14-year-olds something that will make their hearts sing along to Miley's twerkery, while building such an enduring UI, that they will have no choice but to keep upgrading early and often for the next 8 decades of their lives.

  • The Complainer

    Oh, and please tell us how "flat design" shows off the relevance of a "Retina" display? Seriously. Apple could have continued with a form of 3D, they just needed to ditch the woodgrain.

  • Paul Slaff

    Its pretty annoying that various web opinionholders bring this nonsense up repeatedly. How is this animation a critique?

    Why is skeuomorphism necessarily bad? Your phone is a flat slab of glass metal and plastic. The idea was to add a sense of texture to it. That's it.

    The new flat graphic and gradation design (circa flash era web in 2003) of iOS is junk. At least with the skeuomorphism you had a better sense of what buttons were and weren't instead of sometimes clicking borderless text randomly versus links that change colors, versus underlines, versus pictures. Hey, kinda like this site.

    This website has physics when you open the navigation. Things change colors. Things slide open. The links are inconsistent. The thumbnails are inconsistent. ALL CAPS HEADLINES IN CONDENSED BOLD TYPE is horrible.

    See, I can be nitpicky also.

  • goodgoodgood

    The video fails to explain why the so-called "flat design" trend leads to a better and more seamless use of UI. Apple is notorious for prioritising shape over function. Their product design dept. has been doing it for ages. Now they're porting the same philosophy to the software layer. Does it look better? Probably yes. Does it work better? Probably not.

  • Paul Slaff

    shape = form.

    You mean form over function.

    I disagree with your point. There is no correlation between skeuomorphism and how good the user experience is. You can pull it off, and some/many believe the previous iOS with the cheeseball graphics was better.

    That isn't to say you can't pull off flat graphics. I studied at the Bauhaus, and even something as simple as a dropshadow was seen as noise and waste. I can tell you how subtle dropshadows work in contrast.

    Neither are necessarily more correct. This opinion that is at the forefront of inexperienced designer / "i own a computer" tastemakers agenda because they have nothing better to do is really obnoxious and irrelevant.

    Design is the synthesis of form and function. Claiming form necessarily alters function in digital medai is bullshit. It can, if done poorly.

    If you make a wheel square that changes its function, of course. If you make a button flat and borderless and out of text that could be just as unfunctional as if you make it a fuzzy 3d tennis ball. Just as in some contexts the 3d tennis ball is MORE functional that a flat borderless bit of text.

  • goodgoodgood

    Thank you for your kind design 101 class. As a Bauhaus graduate, you probably understand the close relation between symbols, non-natural language, cognition and user experience.

    At any time I suggested the existence of a direct relation between "drop shadows" and skeuomorphism, even though there might be some at a graphic style level.

    I wasn't commenting from a graphic style point of view either, I was simply saying that Apple is known for putting shape (form if you will) over function. It has done at a product (hardware) design level before, and know it is revealing the same philosophy at the software (UI) level.

    Fact: iOS7 interface redesign makes users think before they use or react to it. This is bad. This is plain wrong. No matter if you're a Bauhaus graduate or a "i own a computer, therefore I am a UX expert".

    Have a good day!