Skeuomorphism vs. “Flat” Design: Will Apple’s Changes Flatten the Web Design World?

Skeuomorphism vs. “Flat” Design: Will Apple’s Changes Flatten the Web Design World?If there’s one thing that Apple has been synonymous with, besides Steve Jobs and iPhones, it’s the company’s love of skeuomorphism. Wait, skeuo – what? Skeuomorphism is defined as incorporating familiar elements into web design in such a way that they resemble everyday objects. For instance, the email icon on your iPhone, which is designed to look like an actual, physical envelope, is a perfect example of skeuomorphism. In fact, look at any of Apple’s websites or products, and you’ll see many examples of skeuomorphism. So will Apple’s changes flatten the web design world or not?

Changes to Apple’s Philosophy

Many web design firms, such as Astonish Design, may be open to both skeuomorphism and flat design, but Apple looks like it has turned its back on the former. This all started after the death of Apple honcho Steve Jobs in late 2011. Jobs was a strong proponent of this unique design style, but when he died, changes occurred at the company that signaled skeuomorphism had fallen out of favor…big time! A year after Jobs’ death, Scott Forstall, the senior of iOS software, quit the company, which Apple watchers interpreted as a sign that the company was now moving away from skeuomorphism. Forstall had been a huge proponent of the design philosophy under Jobs.

What About Flat Design?

Flat design is the exact opposite of skeuomorphism, as any good Austin web design firm will already know. Whereas skeuomorphism relies on ornamental and fancy touches to make web elements look like physical, everyday objects, flat design, as its name implies, is quite minimalist and returns to a more bare-bones approach. In other words, it’s much simpler and relies on nicely defined edges, cleanness in design, and 2D drawings (hence, “flat” design!). This approach to designing a website, as well as other elements on handheld devices and the like, is seen as a rebellion against skeuomorphism and the design philosophy that believes more is better.

Apple and Flat Design

Since the death of Jobs and Forstall’s resignation almost a year ago, Apple has begun taking some strides away from skeuomorphism and toward flat design. In fact, Jonathan Ive, who took over for Forstall, is a proponent of simpler design. Ive is the company’s senior vice president of design. When he took over some of Forstall’s job duties, Apple watchers predicted that he would shift Apple’s design aesthetic away from skeuomorphism, and this is exactly what happened.

Apple Rejects Skeuomorphism

One of the most recent developments at the company was announced just a couple of months ago in a big way, which verified long-held beliefs by industry watchers that Apple was going to make drastic changes to its product designs. In June of 2013, at the WWDC or the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, the company officially announced that it was moving away from skeuomorphism to a simplified design, which began what some have called the death of skeuomorphism, at least at Apple. This rejection of skeuomorphism can best be seen with the company’s latest version of its iOS (operating system), which is iOS 7. iOS 7 is slated to be shipped in the fall, at least in the Northern Hemisphere.

Flat Design in iOS 7

Flat Design in iOS 7

With the unveiling of Apple’s iOS 7 at WWDC in June of 2013, the company made it official that it was moving closer to flat design. While the company’s mobile operating system didn’t completely embrace flat design concepts, it was clear that many changes had been made to the old design; flat design was in, and skeuomorphism was totally out. Interestingly enough, an argument can be made that Apple is actually following longtime rival Microsoft’s footsteps with this shift to flatter design because Microsoft’s latest operating system (Windows 8) notably featured flat design in its icons. Regarding iOS 7, one of the most obvious features that confirms a rejection of skeuomorphism can be found in the icons. For instance, in iOS 7, the email icon has less shading, which makes it appear less 3D and flatter. The icon for Newsstand, another application in iOS, now features sharp-edged designs and drawings, minus the wood ornamentation. Another notable change is found in the Calendar application, which used to have leather in the icon. In iOS 7, that leather is gone and has been replaced by extremely simple letters and numbers for day and date.

Time will only tell if Apple’s changes are going to flatten the entire design world, but one thing’s already sure. The company has flattened its own designs, with the best and most recent example being its iOS 7 layout. So while many design firms like Astonish Design may be comfortable with both design options, Apple is standing solidly against skeuomorphism, at least at this point in time in the company’s history.

2 thoughts on “Skeuomorphism vs. “Flat” Design: Will Apple’s Changes Flatten the Web Design World?”

  1. Though at times simple is best, it has always been a pet peeve of mine to stay away from such things as flat plain design. Why make things so generic that there is no real excitement generated from the design? Let’s be honest, there are only so many ways that you can create an icon when you limit it to the simplest form. I guess I should have seen it coming though, considering the “style” we see in everything else around us. The cars of today have very little of it, The new OS’s from both Apple and MS have very little of it, I am wondering how long it will be before product packaging follows this trend.

    By the way, I have always felt that this type of design came about because companies wanted to ensure that they could replace designers without a huge hassle finding another that could replicate the previous design ideas.

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