Posted by: structureofnews | November 2, 2012

Skewing From Skeuomorphism

Just a short, follow up piece to the other day’s post on how tethered to the past digital design needs to be:  Today’s NYT has a nice piece that speculates about how Apple’s design culture might change radically after a corporate shakeup.

The replacement of Scott Forstall, the head of mobile software development, with Jonathan Ive, the man behind Apple’s spare hardware designs, suggests that the company will move away from its skeumorphic sensibility – whether in faux wood shelves to house your digital books or fancy page-turning animations as you read them.   And since Apple is a design leader in many ways, whatever they put into their devices will have a ripple effect through the industry.

Apple’s decisions can influence how millions of people use and think about digital devices — not only its own but those made by other companies that look to Apple as a standard-setter in design.

And if it does spread, it’ll be a nice test to see how people react to a much more purely digital design, with fewer references to the physical world.  And – speculating further – if people do adapt well to a change like that, how much that will affect other designs and interfaces, such as for data visualizations and news apps?  Admittedly, this is speculation on top of speculation – so there’s a long ways to go yet.  But it’ll be interesting to track.

Still, as the Times piece notes, it’s not likely that everything will be torn up.

Even internal critics of Apple’s software designs say that some references to physical things are still useful. The trash bin on the Mac, for example, is a much-used metaphor for deleting files, one that is unlikely to go away soon. There is also a function in the new Passbook app that runs deleted loyalty and payment cards through something resembling a paper shredder. Some Apple designers see that as a good way of reinforcing the idea that potentially sensitive information has been wiped from the device.

I’ve grown used to MacOS and iOS interfaces, but I can’t say they were instinctively intuitive – any more than some of the Windows interfaces were.  But the interaction with the company’s hardware has been impressively different – just look at the way we now expect to be able to swipe and manipulate screens with our fingers.   And when the first iPod came along, it had as clean a design as you could imagine – a plain circular wheel in the center of a rectangle.  And yet we figured out how to use it pretty quickly.   So it’ll be interesting to see how the man who was behind many of those hardware designs brings his sensibility to software.


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