It’s Alive! Skeuomorphism: The Frankenstein’s Monster of Design

Monday, July 1, 2024

It’s Alive! Skeuomorphism: The Frankenstein’s Monster of Design

What is Skeuomorphism, Anyway?

Skeuomorphism is a long word used in user interface (UI) design with a fairly simple meaning. The word is used to describe design elements that mimic their real-world counterparts in how they look and how users interact with them.

Examples of skeuomorphism include:

  • The “trash can/recycle bin” icon on your desktop for unwanted files
  • The “folder” icon for you to organize your docs and images in
  • An “on/off switch” that resembles a light switch on an app

If it looks like what it’s functioning as and is fairly realistic-looking (like a camera icon on a cell phone, complete with the “shine” on the lens), it’s skeuomorphism.

Skeuomorphism’s First Digital Life: Big Hair, Realistic Flair

Apple was one of the first companies to embrace skeuomorphism in the 1980s, smack-dab in the middle of the big hair era. Apple’s goal: to create intuitive design that would be easily recognizable to a generation of people who grew up in a physical environment (not a digital one). Skeuomorphism was just the thing for the job.

It did what it came to do, but in time, designers began to hate it.

Skeuomorphism Declared Dead: The Beginning of Flat Design

After people got used to digital interfaces, skeuomorphism was no longer needed. It had served its purpose, but now designers began to argue that it was cluttering up their designs and creating unnecessary problems.

The more complex the design, the more storage space it uses and the longer an app or website takes to load. Because of this, many designers exchanged skeuomorphism in favor of flat design: a new innovation that favored more abstract renderings for a less cluttered user experience.

Instead of making objects appear three-dimensional (lens shine and all), “flat” icons became in vogue for designers, opening up the layout for users everywhere.

Alas, skeuomorphism was declared “dead” by designers.

Bringing Skeuomorphism Back: The Jolt We Needed

We’ve said it before: nostalgic design is in, and it’s on course to become even more popular in 2024. (It’s why you see record players and records in all the stores again!) And right in the middle of the nostalgic design parade for 2024, you can find skeuomorphism, back from the dead and tooting an uber-realistic horn.

Is This Real Life? Why We Still Need Tangible Objects

As nice as it is to have skeuomorphism back on the scene, there is no substitute for the satisfaction of physical objects that you can interact with. The best things in life can be experienced by most of the five senses.

You can touch a record. You can run your fingers across the grooved lines, and enjoy the satisfying sound that the record player makes as it finds the groove and starts playing music. You can even smell the record if you want. (We don’t recommend you try tasting it.)

The point is, you can experience it in its fullness. Unfortunately, no matter how appealing a skeuomorphic button is in an interface, it doesn’t compare to the feeling of touching a real-life button or holding a tangible object.

The beauty of skeuomorphism is that it can mimic the real-life version enough. After all, you can’t gather everyone who visits your website into a room – so in cases where digital experiences are the only option, it’s a nice feature to have. This is especially true if it’s your goal to bring people together with the power of nostalgia.

Another benefit of skeuomorphism is cost. Several years back, Staples promoted their ability to find solutions to customers’ problems using the “easy button.” For a time, there were even easy buttons available for purchase at the store – and it probably took a good amount of money to manufacture all of those buttons!

Unsurprisingly, they later created an “easy button” app, which was far more cost-effective.

To sum up the benefit of skeuomorphism, Chris Lo (Matcha Design founder) says: “When cost and reality are concerns, augmented and virtual reality can offer a good solution.”

More Design Tips from Matcha Design

Whether you want to embrace skeuomorphism on your website, or you want to go all-out by providing physical marketing materials (like flyers, pamphlets, etc.), Matcha Design can help! We’ve been in the design and marketing industry for decades and have seen trends come and go, but timeless design is always in style.

Would you like to work with us on your next project? Contact us to get started today!

About Matcha Design

Matcha Design is a full-service creative B2B agency with decades of experience executing its client’s visions. The award-winning company specializes in web design, logo design, branding, marketing campaign, print, UX/UI, video production, commercial photography, advertising, and more. Matcha Design upholds the highest personal standards for excellence and can see things from a unique perspective due to its multicultural background.  The company consistently delivers custom, high-quality, innovative solutions to its clients using technical savvy and endless creativity. For more information, visit MatchaDesign.com.

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