Friday, May 03, 2013

Flat or not?

Vidit Bhargava
The binary language doesn't really come naturally to humans. Ever since we started operating electronics we've looked for an interface to make them usable to the common man. A calculator has the interface of a certain combination of keys which we are so accustomed to that we'd recognize it as a calculator from far off. Likewise, the modern day computer has a monitor, keyboard and a mouse, this is distinctly recognizable too. The outer look of the operating system, the keys on the keyboard everything is designed to give pointers to a human, to operate a complex electronic machinery. These pointers define the user interface, which ultimately defines the user experience.

The qwerty keyboard has the same set of combinations that you would see on a typewriter. It was designed so, because it gave a sense of familiarity to the users. The tradition continues to touchscreens, where you would even find the 'f' and 'j' are marked, something that was meant to be on the physical keyboard, for blind people. No its not stupid to carry that to the touch screen, its only to give a deeper sense of familiarity to the users. So in a way, the skeuomorphic keyboard on the touchscreen which replicates the look and feel of a physical keyboard, which replicated the look and feel of a typewriter is just a pointer for the people to quickly adapt to a new technology.

So that was the first instance of skeuomorphism. Is that bad? Does it look terrible? Will Jony Ive be removing all that in iOS7? NO. Skeuomorphism isn't bad. What's bad is adding unnecessary skins to your software. That might be removed from iOS7, yes. So when people say, Jony Ive is all going to go for a flat design, its only partially true. Skeuomorphism remains an integral part of any user experience only the outlook might change. The textures might change, from leather to something more simpler.

Another paradigm people create about flat design, is about buttons. When we start looking at flat designs and see the buttons, most of them are un-intuitive and this partially carries to Apple's current design strategy too. Here's a small pic to make you understand better:

While the in its current state, when i press the play button, it gives me any sensation of a button at all, however on the right side if I tap the play button, the whole thing moves slightly down. giving me the sensation that I pressed something. While the left side is a rare case of un-intuitive button behavior in iOS. The right side, neither imposes skeuomorphism or flat design to suggest a solution. So while the play back bar is minimalistic and flat, the buttons need not be so un-intuitive. This is just one example, many popular iOS apps follow a similar design strategy regarding buttons. I wonder, is it the flat effect or just the designer's lazy-ness to create a button?

The Flat effect
Its true that the flat design is new, its fresh and its full of possibilities. But Skeuomorphism needn't be killed to make way for flatter designs. They can co-exist. A simple example would be the calculator:


While both of them are skeuomorphic. The default iOS calculator draws inspiration from a real life brand of calculators (Braun Calculator) , the calculator on the right side doesn't draw inspiration from any particular brand of calculators but still replicates the look and feel of a calculator to a large extent, deploying flat design practices to make it look fresh and different from the default calculator.

So, skeuomorphism isn't just an Apple thing, its everywhere. From your keyboard to your mobile phones. Flat Design is a fresh design practice, it looks fresh and is definitely different but Flat designs don't imply unintuitive touch inputs for e.g. unintuitive flat buttons and in the future skeuomorphism and flat designs will both coexist. Leather textures might not.

1 comment:

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