Avoiding Design Failures: Skeuomorphism and Flat Design

Skeuomorphism has undeservingly become a dirty word. Skeuomorphism is an object that retains ornamental design cues from an original item that are no longer necessary. Here are a few examples:

on your computer interface you store files within a folder, and delete files by putting them in the trash can or recycle bin
on Apple’s first versions of samasitu.com, the Notes app looks like a yellow pad of paper with a handwriting font
a lightbulb that is shaped like the flame of a candle
Skeuomorphism can be very helpful by giving the user a cue as to how to interact with an object. A link that looks like a button is a clear indication that it can be pressed. A folder icon indicates that this is a place to store things. Skeuomorphism can also be useful in creating an exceptional user experience. A podcasting app could look like you’re in a broadcasting booth. A music player may look like a jukebox. These elements aren’t necessary, but they do add something to the experience.

The main issue with these type of designs is they often become overindulgent to the point where the design elements are no longer fun or helpful, but obstruct the main functionality of the site or app.

The Rise in Popularity of Flat Design
Flat design has always been around, but it has received a resurgence in popularity (an a shiny new name) with companies like Microsoft, and now Apple, redesigning their interfaces to remove extra ornamentation. Many designers are jumping on the bandwagon. This could be a good thing for design if it is done with the right considerations, but unfortunately it can turn into designers spending less time considering their design. Flat design done right should be about simplicity and focus, which is often something that is harder to do than skeuomorphic design.

How Not to Fail: Using Design Principles
The key to not failing, regardless of what style of design you choose, is sticking to design principles. If you start off by deciding what type of design style you’re going to use, the end product is likely to suffer. Instead, start off by thinking about the purpose of the site and how users will accomplish their goals. If you don’t have this part right, no styling will save your project.

Once you’ve got everything planned out, wireframed, and tested then you can move on to enhancing the interface. When deciding between a more heavily ornamented (possibly skeuomorphic) or flatter design, consider the task at hand. Is this site for fun? Is it business oriented? How complex is the task? Generally, I’d suggest that the more repeatedly the tool will be used and the more task oriented it is, the less ornamentation you should put in the way of your user. A design with lots of textures and depth may be beautiful at first but it gets old very quickly if it’s not completely unobtrusive.

Author: p45t1h3rb4l

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