iOS 7 and the timely death of ‘skeuomorphism’

If you share a fear of finding yourself at a cocktail party in a sparsely decorated, exposed brick loftspace surrounded by bearded and bespectacled designers saying scary German words like “Bauhaus,” read on. Design talk can be intimidating, but a little knowledge can buy you the time needed to locate the nearest fire exit.

The word du jour is “skeuomorphism,” which is the design of one thing to look like another. Now, if you’ve visited one of those Flash websites of old that were designed to look like somebody’s office complete with rolodex for “contact” and bulletin board for “news,” then you’ve experienced the phenomenon. In fact, if you’ve ever used a smartphone or computer (I suspect you have) you’ve certainly experienced it. Print icons that look like printers, trashcans that look like trashcans, even save buttons that resemble diskettes from the era of roll-up windows and unironic mullets – it’s all skeuomorphism. I was actually blown away by the fact that I’d never heard of something that I experience and use every single day.

Apply’s new iOS7 is eschewing (eskeuing?) its allegorical design of old, ditching the wood-lined bookshelves, green felt and brushed chrome for a minimalist look and feel. Leading the way is Design Chief Jony Ive, who has taken a withering view of every leather-bound, drop-shadowed pixel and has flattened everything in sight. The result is clean, simple and technicolour – reminding me of the Ocean Pacific t-shirts I loved back in the ’80s.

Wired equates the overhaul to removing the training wheels, making the point that a generation of users who grew up with smartphones no longer need the real world cues to understand how things work. There are many people far more qualified to wade into the ‘skeu or not to skeu’ debate, but I welcome Apple’s refreshing stance to rethink the ways things work without relying on hackneyed attachments to the real world. On a side note, the redesign has turned Ive into a household name and copycats are already poking fun at the new look over on Buzzfeed by imagining what other things would look like after receiving a sound flattening.

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