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Ralsina.Me — Roberto Alsina's website

Apple uses skeuomorphism, but it's not because they are idiots.

Ev­ery day there is a new post de­cry­ing Ap­ple's taste­less use of skeuo­mor­phism (y­ou know, mak­ing cal­cu­la­tor pro­grams look like cal­cu­la­tors and note-­tak­ing apps look like notepad­s?).

I to­tal­ly agree that skeuo­mor­phic apps are ug­ly and stupid. I said that in 2-t­hou­sand-f­reak­ing-­four. But just look­ing at the lat­est abom­i­na­tion (it seems to be a sound recorder that looks like a ree-­to-reel, of all things) and sneer­ing is worse, be­cause that means you don't have any ideas of where de­sign comes from, and I say this be­ing a per­son with as much taste as a wal­rus.

De­sign comes from peo­ple. There is a grander de­sign be­hind that spe­cif­ic de­sign, which you could call a guide­line, or a phi­los­o­phy, or in some cas­es a zeit­geist. For 50 years, there has ex­ist­ed a con­sen­sus about clean­li­ness of de­sign be­ing a good thing. It start­ed in some spe­cif­ic nich­es while oth­ers went in oth­er di­rec­tions (car fin­s!) and lat­er each area of de­sign has moved, like a pen­du­lum, to­wards clean­li­ness or "spe­cial­ness".

Once you go "clean", and ev­ery­one goes "clean" there is very lit­tle you can do to make your prod­uct dis­tinc­tive, and a ten­sion is cre­at­ed to make it less clean and more "spe­cial".

Google's en­try page used to be ab­so­lute­ly clean. A place to en­ter tex­t, and two but­ton­s. Now it has a menu with 11+ item­s, 3 but­ton­s, and an icon. Ap­ple's OS9 was as­cetic, and now OSX is a sea of boun­cy col­or­ful things shout­ing at you.

The skeuo­mor­phism and oth­er in­di­ca­tions of overde­sign, of com­pli­ca­tion, in ap­ple's apps is not un­in­ten­tion­al, it's an in­ten­tion­al at­tempt at mak­ing the ap­pli­ca­tions spe­cial, ap­peal­ing, and dis­tinc­tive. It is ug­ly and aw­ful, but it is so in­ten­tion­al­ly, be­cause the very con­cepts of ug­li­ness and aw­ful­ness are just a vague con­sen­sus among the user­s, and Ap­ple sure­ly felt con­fi­dence that user­s, ac­cos­tumed to Ap­ple's role as kings of taste, would change their taste to fit. And as far as I can see that is ex­act­ly what has hap­pened.

Users are not the ones com­plain­ing about Ap­ple's de­sign style, oth­er de­sign­ers are com­plain­ing. That sig­nal­s, to me, a dis­con­nect be­tween the taste of de­sign­ers and the taste of user­s. And hon­est­ly, the taste of de­sign­ers is on­ly of vague aca­dem­ic in­ter­est to com­pa­nies try­ing to sell prod­uc­t.

Ap­ple's hard­ware stays min­i­mal­is­tic be­cause they have suc­cess­ful­ly brand­ed it. If you see a squar­ish slab of black glass with a but­ton, you think iPad or iPhone de­pend­ing on size, not "gener­ic min­i­mal­is­tic touch de­vice". On soft­ware, that did not work. There was noth­ing in­ter­est­ing or in­no­va­tive, or dis­tinc­tive in min­i­mal­is­tic de­sign for ap­pli­ca­tion­s.

So they start­ed with col­or­ful gum­drop­s, moved on­to brushed met­al, and then in­to fake stitched leather, be­cause they are try­ing to find some­thing that can be as suc­cess­ful­ly and pow­er­ful­ly brand­ed as "sil­very slim wedge with black keys" is now.

De­sign­ers ap­par­ent­ly seem to be­lieve there is cer­tain spe­cif­ic "clean­li­ness" that is the hall­mark of "good" de­sign, and that ripped pa­per and oth­er skeuo­mor­phic af­fec­ta­tions are signs of bad taste. That is sil­ly and ahis­toric. Clean­li­ness is just a fash­ion, reel-­to-reel dig­i­tal recorders are an at­tempt at cre­at­ing a taste. It's am­bi­tious, and re­spectable.

On the oth­er hand, it is ug­ly as hel­l.