No more spoon-fed technology: A eulogy to skeuomorphism


At tomorrow’s event, Apple is predicted to release the new iPhone(s)complete with iOS 7, its newest operating system still unavailable to most of the public. Besides the possibility for a rumored fingerprint scanner and a C-3PO color option, putting iOS 7 in the hands of millions is going to mean saying goodbye to more than the primary color scheme.

If you’re unfamiliar, skeuomorphism can be defined as nostalgia by design. Faux wood paneling on the side of a station wagon. Cute but immovable wooden shutters. The sound of the shutter click your phone makes when you take a picture. What once was a necessity of function in generations past, becomes an embellishment solely for the purpose of touchy-feely familiarity—a baby step in our understanding of what’s new. But Apple’s event tomorrow could be a big step (one that Google and Microsoft have already taken) in moving technology’s functionality into a world of its own, independent of its tangible counterparts.

This upgrade is long overdue, and at this stage, a moot point of controversy. It symbolizes not just an evolution of design and user experience, but also an evolution of perspective. When we no longer tie our technology to the expectations of its tangible counterparts or older generations, then the possibilities are unbound. We can see past the limitations of the physical world and envision the potential of the digital one.

Still, the pixels of wooden shelves where we store our eBooks don’t deserve a harsh “good riddance” but instead, a respectful farewell:

Skeuomorphism brought with it the overly familiar comfort of those holey sweatpants you’ve had since high school that you still wear in public. You think you need them, but they’re not doing you any favors.

As it leaves us, gone will be the days of handwritten fonts on sticky notes that look like you could peel them from the screen. Now, your camera icon may not look quite as reflective, and when you push a button it may not look like it’s sinking into the screen. Still, we’ll always have a soft spot for those features that Jony Ive and his parallax will never fill.

But instead of mourning, let’s celebrate the life of skeuomorphism with our last days of drop shadows and dog-eared page corners that you can swipe. Shoot away as you watch the “shutter” of your camera close and open, so you know it’s taken the picture. And as we move on to a digital realm with more simplicity and less shadow effects, stay humbled by the past and remember from whence we came.

Imagine yourself in twenty years driving alongside a newly-licensed teen whose trunk is mistakenly bobbing open. You pull up beside them at a traffic light to alert them, and wind your fist in a circular motion—the universal signal for them to roll down the window. They’ll drop the window with the push of a button, probably never knowing how that winding gesture earned its meaning. But you will.