On Apple’s Skeuomorphic UI Textures

James Higgs, on the stark contrast between Apple’s minimalist hardware and often exuberantly-decorative software:

It should probably be obvious that my own preference is for design without ornamentation, certainly without a hint of sentimentality, and that I detest these new apps. Why?

Simply put: it’s because they are lies. They attempt to comfort us (to patronise us) by trying to show how they relate to physical objects in the real world when there is no need. How are we helped to understand what Find My Friends does by the addition of “leather” trim? And how difficult can it be for someone, even a relative digital newcomer, to understand a list of books? Difficult enough that the only possible way they could understand it is to present them in a “wooden” bookshelf format?

My record as a critic of Apple’s use of over-the-top UI textures speaks for itself. And I’ve long noted something that Higgs emphasizes: that the use of these software skins today —rich Corinthian leather, dark linen, etc. — seems in contrast with the minimalism and truth of Apple’s hardware. The iPhone 4 and iPad are made of glass and aluminum, and they look like glass and aluminum. That’s truth. A decade ago, Apple’s exuberant software skins — candy-colored Aqua and brushed metal — always struck me as being designed as natural counterparts to Apple’s hardware of the day. Aqua was like the candy-colored iMacs, brushed metal the PowerBooks and Mac Pros.

I think Higgs is overthinking this, though. These themes aren’t lies. They’re not designed to help users understand how these apps work. They’re just decoration. They’re per-app branding. Apple no longer endorses system-wide visual uniformity. Special apps are supposed to look special. Why is Find My Friends wrapped in rich Corinthian leather? Because someone at Apple likes (and, sadly, if my guess is right, better said liked, past tense) how it looks.

And as for the dichotomy between Apple’s hardware and software designs: I think Apple sees the hardware as the universal frame, the software as dozens of diverse pictures.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011