I think I've soiled myself


I don't normally care much for the political machinations at the top of companies, most of it's too arcane and divorced from my life. But my heart leapt with joy to read of the imminent departure of Scott Forstall from the executive leadership at Apple. Admittedly, Forstall did some good things while at Apple, overseeing iOS. But he was apparently a bastard to work with; was at the helm during the disastrous introduction of Apple's own mapping software and Siri; and, above all, was largely responsible for the introduction of the skeuomorphic user interface in a number of iOS, and later OS X, applications.

The what?, I hear you splutter, gentle reader.

Skeuomorphism, that's what! It's the application of ornamental elements associated with traditional, physical tools to their digital equivalents.

Of course, this is not a new phenomenon. Anyone who used Lotus Organiser back in the '90s could tell you that. But the world moves on, and those who pay no heed to history are condemned to repeat it. Apple's Calendar, Books, and Game Centre applications are redolent in faux leather bindings; stitching; ripped pages; wood veneer; green felt, and more. Even Contacts has a faux book appearance. Some people love its cuteness and familiarity, others proclaim it tacky and embarrassing. Personally, I don't think that these design elements help. They're ugly, and in the worst cases get in the way, hindering usability.

But isn't one advantage of digital tools, compared to their traditional equivalents, the fact that you can change the appearance by skinning? For designers who can conjure up wood veneer and faux leather, is it too much to also design a less cumbersome alternative and allow the user to decide within the application preferences?

Wow, users in control of the user experience. Radical, no?