A few years ago a debate raged in design circles. Skeuomorphism, the use of analogous reference to real-world objects for no practical purpose, was much beloved in the design language of Apple.From faux leather backgrounds to mock metal grilles, fragments of real world objects were littered all over the digital tools and services that people consumed on their iPhones, iPads and Macs.
But this wasn’t right, according to some. Design for digital should be authentically digital (whatever that meant). Flat design was the truth. Flat design, where everything looks like something that could only exist in a digital environment, was pure. From the design patterns formerly known as Metro, to Android’s Material Design, to Apple’s iOS 8, the world went flat.
Looking at the publicity around Apple Watch hitting the shops in the past few days, one thing that doesn’t seem to be being commented upon is that it appear Skeuomorphism is back. Look at the Apple Watch. Look at it’s pretty watch faces. Look how they pretend to be like the analogue devices that they are attempting to usurp. With the Crown (a skeuomorphic design if ever there was one) to the watch faces on the time-telling app, all placed at nine minutes past ten in an oh-so-clever “we’re ahead of everyone else” way. From smart Swiss design, to bling with “diamonds” to Mickey Mouse. All pretending to be things that they most certainly are not. Skeuomorphism if ever there was.
I actually don’t have a problem with skeuomorphism. It’s a clever trick – make something look like the familiar to encourage adoption. In a few years we’ll no doubt be in a world where people comment upon how telling the time is a bit-part function of watches in the way that making a phone call is a bit-part function of a smartphone today for most people. It’s just curious that many of the folk who were telling us about how bad skeuomorphism was a few years ago are probably at the front of the queue at the Apple Store today.