Is Skeumorphism coming back to User Interfaces?


When apple first introduced the iPhone in 2007, it was a completely new UI for people to learn. There wasn't really anything like it before so there was a possibility that people will have a problem to use it. To ease the initial learning curve, Apple has decided to make the interface Skeumorphic - i.e. with elements looking like real-world objects. Because of that the associations would be more natural - if you see a digital, wooden bookshelf, you understand it's a place where your books are. It's even more prominent with buttons - if something is visibly "sticking out" and 3d-like, it gives the idea that you can push it in.


Then iOS 7 came along, with a radical "flattening" of the design. Android has been at it for a while now, and Apple didn't want to be associated with stitched-leather and wooden shelves anymore. It wasn't as cool as "minimal" design. The flattening of iOS 7 was so radical, that a lot of people got very upset at Apple, feeling like the iPhone has lost it's defining thing and bacame "a typical mobile UI".

Apple has explained their choice, by the fact that in 7 years people have gotten used to mobile interfaces and know how to operate them. That's why a button doesn't have to LOOK like a button, it can now be just text. Shadows under elements also went away (although they kept it in some places still). A new font - San Francisco - was introduced in place of Helvetica Neue and mostly very thin and light variants of it were used to give that "breath" to the interface. Whitespace was king, but was there a hidden cost?

Non-buttony buttons and very thin fonts created a perceptive lag, in turn slowing down the interaction and understanding.

People quickly got used to the new interface, but as any good company, Apple has been doing research on this all the time. Apparently some of the choices weren't as easily understandable as expected.


iOS11 on the left, iOS 7 on the right.

iOS11, coming 10 years after the first iPhone is apparently bringing some of it back. Apple's design language is evolving (or devolving) in some places. Buttons are now visibly "buttons", not just white space, and fonts got considerably thicker (but not too thick) so they are way easier to read than SF Thin or SF Light. Medium and regular weights also got their way into Apple's website language - you will have to spend serious time to find any uses of thin and lights fonts on Apple's product websites. It's regular and medium weights all around.

Does this signify the coming back of Skeumorphism? Probably not in the sense of stitched leather and wood, but it is bringing back some common sense about the kinds of interfaces that are just plain easier to use and understand.

Making everything hip and minimal only for the sake of being trendy is NOT a way to go in interface design. Good thing Apple has noticed that.

We covered iOS 7 problems when it launched at our old blog back in 2013:


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