What are skeuomorphic interfaces

Skeuomorphism in Interface Design

That's right, skeuomorphism. Let's take a look at what this bizarre term means, when to use it in interface design, and what can happen if it goes wrong.

Skeuo ... what ??

If you're not sure what exactly skeuomorphism is, let's get some help from the always reliable Wikipedia to explain it.

an element of design or structure that serves little or no purpose to the artifact formed from the new material, but was essential to the object made from the original material - Wikipedia

In the context of the design of digital interfaces, this essentially means that elements look like objects in the real world. Wooden textures, torn paper, and sewn ribbons are examples of skeuomorphism in action, and you've no doubt come across a lot more recently.

However, there are mixed feelings about the use of such elements and arguments have been made for and against them. Does skeuomorphism add or detract from usability? Does it serve a purpose or is it purely superfluous? These and other questions are answered below.

The current situation

It's safe to say that Apple influenced the recent surge in this design style. Apps like iBooks, Calendar and Find My Friends are characterized by their skeuomorphic design. This inevitably has an impact on the design of many other apps on the market.

Skeuomorphism isn't just limited to apps, either. Of course, it has also found its way into the design of the user interface on many websites.

The problem is that certain design styles keep getting more popular as they get popular. as has happened on many occasions in the past. Style is overused and abused with little thought about the choices made. When this happens, the overall style can lose its effectiveness, which can be a little unfair. Skeuomorphism seems to be going in this direction. So it pays to consider both the positives and negatives of such a style before making an assessment.

The professionals

Perhaps the main argument in favor of skeumorphism is that it can help create a sense of familiarity. Interacting with elements they are used to in the real world can help make users more comfortable with the experience. This is especially important for users who are not entirely familiar with using modern technologies.

It's worth noting that Apple targets this group of users, usually older and less tech-savvy, particularly well. Many people now use iPads who have limited experience with a traditional computer. So, in some ways, it makes sense to make your calendar application look like an actual calendar. undoubtedly many people have made use of it before.

With this in mind, it is (as always) necessary to keep your target audience in mind when designing your new application or website. Think about whether your audience has a lot of experience with your platform, whether there is something that may not be understood and, if there is, whether it can benefit from the use of skeuomorphic elements or visual metaphors.

Another positive aspect of scuomorphism is the ability to convey a certain atmosphere or to generate certain emotions. In real life we ​​can all use our senses to evaluate an object. how something looks, sounds, tastes, feels and smells. By imitating a real object, digital elements can also evoke the other properties of that object.

For example, a leather-look texture (with the mandatory stitching) can evoke memories of the feel and smell of leather, which in turn translates into a sense of sophistication and luxury. If this is the emotional world you want to be associated with, it may make sense to consider this type of element if it makes sense in the context of your project.

Skeuomorphic design also generally creates an informal and playful atmosphere. You will often find this style in games or in other scenarios. like in Apple's iBooks app.

Skeuomorphism is indeed a great way to quickly and clearly communicate the topic of your website or app.

Designer Marc Mendell's portfolio uses skeuomorphism by simulating a home working environment. Marc uses a laptop to view work from his portfolio.

Similarly, web designer Zoltan Hosszu uses a lot of skeumorphic features in his portfolio website. In this pseudo-home environment, he shows his portfolio on a shelf and even uses spot lighting for additional effects.

It is common for blogs and online magazines to use a paper texture in their designs. IconEden's blog goes a step further and includes stacked paper, leather backs, a bookmark, and even a fountain pen.

So we saw that skeuomorphism has some positive properties. However, as mentioned earlier, it can have some drawbacks as well.

The disadvantages

A big problem many people face with skueomorphism is that it is easy to make mistakes when creating realistic elements. The human eye is very good at picking up when things don't look quite right, even when they are not consciously registering themselves. This generally occurs with lights, shadows, and perspectives.

For example, consider the beveled or curved drop shadow that has become popular. It's a change from the standard drop shadow, and some might argue that it looks pretty cool too.

However, it doesn't feel quite right. The shadow would indicate that either the object itself is curved or is the surface it is resting on. but the lighting and shape of both suggest that this is not the case. These little things can really make a difference, so attention to detail is crucial when creating skeuomorphic elements and imitating real life.

It was mentioned earlier that skeuomorphic interfaces can increase the usability by using elements with which the user is already familiar. While this is still the case, it can also have the opposite effect and confuse people if not done correctly.

When a user comes across a digital element that resembles something they are familiar with in practice, they expect it too behave it is also in a similar fashion. If the item doesn't work as predicted, the user can become frustrated. especially if you are an inexperienced user.

It can be too easy to focus on the aesthetic element of a skeuomorphic interface and overlook functionality. However, if you neglect functionality, you are turning skeuomorphism into something that actually detracts from, rather than enhances, the usability and quality of the user experience.

One criticism that is often made of skeuomorphic interfaces is that they lack creativity and innovation is hindered. Technology is one of the fastest developing markets that provides more efficient tasks all the time. So why look back at interface design?

It's common to see to-do lists, note lists, and calculator interfaces that are similar to their real-life counterparts, but at the expense of potentially less efficient performing of these tasks. Physical objects in the real world have limitations that digital elements do not. Therefore, designers limit themselves to reality and never miss an opportunity to take full advantage of current technology, as we will see below.

Not the only way

While skeuomorphism can be popular right now, it's not the only way to create great looking, impressive interfaces.

The popular to-do iPhone app Clear uses an extremely simple and minimal user interface. The design sets this app apart from the numerous others that include notepad textures, checkboxes, tabs, and other skeuomorphic elements.

selection Not Mimicking a traditional to-do list has allowed designers to think differently and take full advantage of the technology at their disposal. The app was made up of multi-touch gestures and, together with the gentle animation, ensures a very unique and elegant experience.

The latest version of Microsoft's operating system, Windows 8, will also feature a sharp, solid, and simple user interface design known as "Metro". The style already used in Windows Phone and Xbox Live is called "authentic digital".

It's very different from what we've seen from Microsoft before, and they've clearly chosen to go in a completely different direction from Apple. with a focus on typography and providing content with few extraneous details.


Skeuomorphism seems pretty popular right now, but that popularity will no doubt wane over time. Many people's feelings about this style will generally depend on personal taste. It is likely that experienced technology users will find skeuomorphism unnecessary or even kitsch, while casual users will appreciate it more.

However, we've seen that skeuomorphism has both positives and negatives, and it's worth considering before implementing this style in your next interface design.