Posts

SkeuoVsFlatBanner

As a business trying to keep up with the constantly changing internet, it can be hard to decide which trends to follow and what works best for your business. It is important to have a modern and up-to-date website, but if you chase every trend you’ll often end up falling behind and adopting practices that don’t suit your own business.

The biggest decision many web designers and business owners have had to make in recent history is whether or not they should adopt the flat design craze that has swept the web over the past year, or whether they should be using more traditional skeuomorphic design practices for their brand. As the flat design style has become a staple of many big businesses, many brands are also forced whether they run the risk of becoming cliche by picking up flat design or if they will fall behind the times with the older style.

If you aren’t familiar with the whole flat design vs. skeuomorphism debate, there has been a major shift in popular web design trends that really gained steam in 2013. Chances are, your web design has relied on skeuomorphic design principles at some point, even if you’ve never heard the word.

Skeuomorphic designs rely on recreating objects and visual styles from the three-dimensional world in order to make web design more easily relatable to users. By using stylistic cues and layouts from things such as calenders or notepads, users are immediately able to feel familiar with a website or application.

However, as computers, tablets, and smartphones have made technology a constant part of day-to-day life, flat design proponents have pushed for designs that are created “for the screen.” As a guiding principle that is understandable, but flat design activists have translated that mantra into strict stylistic principles as grounded in minimalism as they are web design.

Flat designs use simple elements and a strict two-dimensional approach that eschews all added effects such as drop shadows, bevels, and embossing. Flat design has also been heavily associated with the flourishing popularity of more complex typography.

The loudest voices for flat design have made it sound as if the new design style is a revolution in how we design, and on some levels it is. The basic guiding principles of “designing for the screen” can open up many new ways of thinking about web design which are fertile for innovation. As a style based on minimalism and strict stylistic rules however, flat design is a trend with more lasting power than some of the more fleeting crazes.

It is more important as a business owner to decide what design styles benefit your brand the most, rather than which trends are the most popular at the moment. There are numerous benefits of flat design, but skeuomorphism has been a long standing way of making products and web designs the most usable and familiar they can be for their audience. Plus, as Apple has shown, you can make your designs more flat to benefit usability without entirely going to Flat Design.

To help you understand which design style benefits your brand and business the most, WebdesignerDepot released an infographic highlighting the biggest advantages and drawbacks to skeuomorphism and flat design. It may help you find which style works for you.

New Image

iOS7 concept by Andre Almeida

iOS7 concept by Andre Almeida

It appears that flat design is taking the lead over skeuomorphism, as Apple’s new iOS is rumored to be receiving a huge overhaul in the near future. The most recent speculation claims that the new iOS look is going to be largely monotone and understated, as well as abandoning the textures and “realistic” drop shadows of the past.

Web Designer Depot reported the claims which have also been going around most design blogs, which also state that the new mobile OS is rumored to be announced at the Apple WDDC on June 10th, where there is also speculation about a new iPhone announcement.

One of the leading reasons many designers have been slowly migrating is that it is incredibly easy to make a flat design also responsive, especially compared too skeuomorphic designs. Flat design follows the ideology that effects simulating the 3D world such as drop shadows or textures that mimic real objects are not only deceitful, but becoming increasingly irrelevant in an online world.

This isn’t to say that skeuomorphism is completely dead; there are still many designers promoting the strategy. But, Apple has long been cited as one of the biggest proponents of the trend, with their iconic mobile OS styles.

The rumors all started when Apple tapped Jonathan Ive to head the design of iOS7. Ive, Apple’s Vice President of Industrial Design and the man responsible for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch hardware, is known to have a strong dislike of skeuomorphic design, which was heavily promoted in the company by Steve Jobs and former iOS head Scott Forstall.

No one will know for sure what is coming with the Apple conference until the 10th, and many skeptics claim that Apple is likely to be implemented incrementally rather than suddenly with an iOS update.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “It’s March! It’s too late to be making predictions for 2013!” You’re right, and I normally write off any list coming out at this point, but a full ebook analyzing what is coming up in web design trends should perk the ears of any web designer trying to stay up to date.

The team at Awwwards released an ebook called Web Design and Mobile Trends for 2013 in mid February with some analysis, but they weren’t done there. They took the feedback they received on their opinions, created a new list with ten key trends web designers should be aware of and re-released the ebook with corrections last week.

Their list doesn’t reinvent the wheel. I’ve already written about a fair number of their trends such as flat design supposedly usurping skeuomorphism, device or technology agnostic designs, and content first approaches. What the list does is show what the public is talking about, and what web designers are doing.

For example, I scarcely believe that any style of design like flat design or skeuomorphism will ever be monolithic on the web, but there are a few aesthetic and technical reasons to believe flat designs will continue to become more prominent. First, web design is refining itself towards a more minimalistic layout as designers are learning that clutter is an enemy. Secondly, The wide variety and quality of devices connecting to the internet creates a need for designs that will look and perform great on fancy new retina displays as well as on mobiles in the non-western market with likely slower internet connections and eReaders.

Meanwhile, predictions like going content first on your website seem like they should always have been common sense, but less advanced algorithms couldn’t favor in the past. As Google has improved their spam fighting campaign, questionable backdoor habits have been thrown out in favor of creating websites people will want to see.

It is always best to let the people making their predictions qualify them, and Awwwards is a great source of intelligent conversation on web design, so I highly advise reading their ebook and checking out their list.

The debate between skeuomorphism and flat design has been covered thoroughly, but when I talked about it I found it hard to think of many examples of flat design. Possibly because I largely use Apple products or because flat design is a new-ish trend, I find myself interacting with skeuomorphic design interfaces much more often than flat design schemes.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of sites out there using the ideas behind flat design to create striking pages. For those unfamiliar, flat design is a style that drops all forms of imitation of depth or “realism” in favor of designing based on the flat screens we actually use. A great deal of new sites are using the style to create clean, minimal pages that emphasize simplicity and interaction, and Chris Spooner compiled a list of sites that have sprung up using flat design, complete with images for each website.

The actual debate between the two design methods is of course overblown. Some writers act as if the schism will decide the future look of the internet in the same way VHS and Laserdisk competed for how we watched movies at home. Unlike that type of competitive market, neither is “better” for the internet, though one may be more suited for your current project. These pages definitely make it clear that flat design can inspire creative and user-friendly interfaces just like skeuomorphism can.

I recently wrote about the current debate over skeuomorphism and flat design, but after investigating more into the topic, I don’t feel like I explained skeuomorphism as well as possible. Of particular interest to me was Paula Borowska’s article for Designmodo specifically looking at skeuomorphism.

The biggest misconception about skeuomorphism is also the one I failed to address in my original definition of the concept. Skeuomorphism isn’t simply mimicking the way something looks. It is copying the aesthetic properties of the material, the shape, and most importantly, the functionality. Those apps using faux leather backgrounds aren’t part of skeuomorphic design.

More than anything, Skeuomorphic design is about functionality and shape, not texture. The object doesn’t have to physically do something, but it has to convey the idea of functionality  For example, a paperclip on a “stack” of photos is skeuomorphic design, because it appears to be holding them together.

Apple, always noted for their use of skeuomorphism, have the newsstand, the most famous case of the design technique. It, of course, has the wooden texture of a bookshelf, but it also used the newsstand shape and shelved to organize the magazines like they would be on an actual newsstand. Sure, it looks pretty, but it also uses the idea of a real object to better help you understand and interact with the content.

The debate between skeuomorphism and flat design is most likely just posturing. Despite proponents on either side, neither style is inherently better than the other. Most importantly, the web is not a cohesive entity. Neither style of design is going to eradicate the other, though they may fluctuate in popularity. If the internet can’t seem to completely rid itself of Geocities style pages from 1998, neither of these techniques will be disappearing any time soon.