What should a post about skeuomorphism look like?

Skeuomorphism is back in the news because iOS chief Scott Forstall was fired from Apple. A lot of people are saying he got fired because he was a dick and tons of people hated him, not because he had bad taste and produced less than stellar results with Siri and Apple Maps. Not that the two could in any way be related.

I hope he didn’t get fired for being a dick. It’s clear that Steve Jobs didn’t think being an asshole was a firing offense or even a serious character flaw. It’s not like he ever got fired for being a huge asshole and walked around with a giant chip on his shoulder about it. Oh, yeah, that.

What Steve did care about was "taste." A lot.

I don’t dislike anything about Microsoft, except everything.

A guy who took one course on calligraphy from a college he never graduated from wound up talking about design, taste and oftentimes typography for most of his life. And while there’s evidence that Jobs was on the wrong side of taste in his final years, likely being the champion of the kitsch and skeuomorphism in iOS products, you apparently don’t get to fire the CEO over that sort of thing. You just have to put up with Ye Olde Parlour Game Center. But when that CEO is gone, anyone still on HMS Ripped Calendar Page is thrown overboard.


Quotes below are from Farhad Manjoo’s Should a Calendar App look like a Calendar?

How do you convey to someone that Notes is where you jot down a grocery list but Pages is where you type up a book report?

I don’t know, how about naming it Notes?

And when people open the app to look for the miles of editing options they find barely any. And while we’re at it, why are you making people type “notes” into the Notes box and “reports” into the Pages box with slightly more formatting options in the first place? It’s a holdover of the days when you’d “jot down” notes on a notepad and “type up” your paper using a typewriter. See how catering to outdated metaphors just creates more problems the longer you refuse to cut the cord?

The amount of condescension shown for “non-techy” users is incredible. As if you have to hand “normals” a pacifier and a beanie and a big flow chart with giant cartoon illustrations to have them understand that an app named “Notes” is for taking notes.


The new iOS Podcasts app (aside from suffering from inconsistent naming, in addition to a host of other problems) uses knobs.

If you see a knob, they blew it.

Knobs. On a touch device in 2012 by the company the single-handedly revived the touch paradigm. Knobs. There’s goofy and tacky and then there’s just horrible.


There’s an even larger reason to use real-world design metaphors: They add emotional depth to software.

Real-world design metaphors do bring an element of nostalgia to software, but it’s a little like being in your 30s, meeting a person you had a crush on when you were in your teens and then asking them to dress up in their old clothes and act like what they were back then. I know, it’s sad that your old spiral notebook is gone, but showing you a picture of it won’t bring it back.

There’s this thing about rivers: you can’t step in the same one twice. Or, in computer parlance: iOS leather stitching is to real leather stitching what a real steak is to the squeeze toy steak you give to a dog.

You get an emotional reaction when you hold and use an iPad, not touch the faux-leather stitched buttons in Find my Friends. You get an emotional reaction when the radial menu in Path pops out or when you pull back the slingshot in Angry Birds. You get an emotional reaction when you see how cool it is to use Soulver to type in a natural language query and discouver it gives you the right answer.

Trying to shoehorn new opportunities for emotional reaction with software into an old model that required the reaction to be derived from a fairly narrow set of visual and tangible options is silly and limiting. And pretty much everyone except Steve Jobs and Scott Forstall seems to have come to that conclusion.

Farhad mentions calculator apps in his piece, but fails to bring up Soulver. He talks about how Metro’s calculator with 2D buttons is considered less kitschy than iOS’s calculator with 3D buttons. That’s true, but they’re both guilty of the same lazy thinking. Soulver is the example of innovative thinking.

Condescension isn’t friendly, it’s just condescending. People want clearer and better. And it’s not impossible for people to learn a new metaphor for calculating things more than once in their life.


Mobile computers are very new things, and they make a lot of people instantly uncomfortable.

I think it was this point that I found most offensive.

We’ve had laptops and cell phones for decades now. People have been scared of computers since they first came out. But then again, people are scared of pretty much everything. Should we tell those "rock and roll kids" to cut their hair and play something more palatable for the old people who are scared of that infernal racket they aren’t used to?

Pandering to the lazy, old and conservative is embarrassing. The same goes for treating people as if they’re a bunch of idiots who are incapable of learning.