Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Are Digital Interfaces Moving away From Faking Real-World Looks?

It's NOT an appointment book, it's a calendar APP!
Hunter Communications recommended reading from:
ReadWrite

Link to article:
Forget Skeuomorphism: The (Digital) World is Getting Flatter

Apple, for one,  has been notorious for making digital interfaces and icons imitate items from the "real" world (i.e. pictures of note pads, wood-textured ebook shelves, etc.). But the pendulum has swung, and Windows 8's Metro flat tiles are becoming a new paradigm of flat and utilitarian design in the digital world. Will the future world be flat or skeuomorphic?

Excerpt: "Computer interface design is all about metaphors: That's not really a window or a desktop or a menu you're using… it's just a clever approximation of the real-world items sketched out on the screen. One designer's examination of those kinds of conventions in user interfaces on desktops, smartphones and tablets may give us a glimpse into the future look of the devices we use.

The concept of approximating real-world tools and interfaces on the screen is known as skeuomorphism, according to Sacha Greif, a French computer designer who currently resides in Osaka, Japan (which sounds much cooler than, say, a Hoosier living in Indiana).

Greif recently wrote a compelling essay called "Flat Pixels," which explains skeuomorphic design versus the up-and-coming trend of flat design. Greif lays out a great primer explaining what skeuomorphic design actually is, using the example of how many on-screen calculators are designed to look. Usually, just like their physical counterparts, even down to the 'C' key in some cases.

This is a type of design that I have commented on before to my students, only I didn't know until I read Greif's article what this design concept was called. In my case, when I explain the interface of Microsoft Excel or LibreOffice Calc, I describe for them the old spreadsheet books that accountants used to use, and how the modern-day spreadsheet applications mimic that with rows, columns, cells and worksheets.

Skeuomorphic design, by Greif's definition, attempts to mirror the physical functionality of a tool, even replicating physical items or characteristics that are no longer used all that much. Greif mentioned 'radio buttons,' which is, if you'll pardon the pun, a hot-button for me, because of the blank stares I get from my undergrads when I mention the term in class.

When was the last time anyone even saw an actual radio button? I can't remember my last time using one, though I miss the satisfying 'ker-chunk' I'd hear when tuning into WLS-AM as a kid in the car. Yet, even in 'modern' interfaces like Office 2010, radio buttons are still all over the place.

Greif highlights elements of skeuomorphic design as opposed to the rising trend of flat design. In flat design, typography and minimalism take center stage over the functionality of real-world objects. Greif cites Windows 8's Metro interface as a strong example of flat design and indeed, he might hopefully find our own design here at ReadWrite somewhere on the flat end of the design spectrum."

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