Weekly Poll: Skeuomorphism or Flat UI?

Apple’s known for sleek metal+glass gadgets, with clean lines, no stickers, and nothing that isn’t absolutely necessary. It’s also known for software filled with faux linen, leather, felt, candy-colored buttons, and previously, transparency, pinstripes, and brushed metal.

Microsoft, on the other hand, has set itself on a new design course, with plain colors, flat lines, and sharp typography. The new design style, previously called Metro, is a stark departure for Windows’ previous glassy Aero style, or the bubbly plastic XP Bliss style.

Microsoft’s not known for innovating on the UI front, but their recent changes in Windows 8 and their other apps has set off a wave of changes across the industry. Moving away from skeuomorphism, many newer apps like Loren Brichter’s Letterpress and Ulysses III‘s “Pure Mode” have a design that’s reminiscent of the Metro design. And now, with Jony Ive taking over UI design at Apple, many have speculated that OS X 10.9 and iOS 7 will gain a flatter UI with less skeuomorphism than Apple’s known for.

We’re wondering which you prefer. Do you love UIs that look like something real, say, a bookshelf, or does the new Metro text-first design style appeal more to you? We’d love to hear your thoughts about it in the comments below!

Pictured: Microsoft’s Outlook.com calendar web app and Apple’s Calendar.app in OS X Mountain Lion


  • http://iynque.com iynque

    The Mac OS Terminal app, even the CLI it connects to, and DOS are still UI… Not GUI, but still an interface with the user. Just sayin’ NERDS.

    Also, I’m pro skeuomorphism. Apple’s calendar takes it a bit far, but generally I think there’s value in it. …and value beyond mere styling and ‘cool factor.’ It can and does make things more functional in most cases. Flat UI is beautiful and its proponents have the moral high-ground, but I enjoy skeuomorph porn just the same.

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      Very true re UI :)

  • Renée

    It’s a trend, just like anything else. I’m a bit tired of skeuomorphism at the moment, and am all for the flat, digital trend. I’m sure in a few years (maybe sooner) this will get phased out and skeuomorphism will be ‘in’ again.

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      You know what? You’re right.

    • Sigilist

      On the mark, Renee. I would go even farther and say the users will always respond to the GUI (not UI) over time. Once the buzz wear’s off, what will matter is:

      –what is functional
      –what is personally adaptable / customizable
      –what again rejects the “one size fits all” nonsense always couched in a new design (so-called) paradigm
      –what gets you to what you want without excess clicks, taps, and a ridiculous list of key combinations no one fully remembers.

  • Jeremy

    Flat, flat, flat.

  • Xinwei

    I love the Skeuomorphism, but I do not like the design of Calendar. I want to see more Skeuomorphism in iOS. But OS X, I prefer some flat UI.

  • Phillip Gruneich

    I’ll always go for the middle ground since a full flat application for OS X, sincerely looks like Java. The great thing about flat is that you can focus on the important things without too many elements composing the screen, however, skeumorphism solves the issue of familiarity.

    It is, in my opinion, silly to divide both and go only one way, it’s grabbing whatever you need. There are many solutions to a design, however, there’s only one right one, which leads to perfection, attaching to a idealism like this will only narrow your chances to reach it out.

    Then, even flat UIs rely deeply on skeuomorphism, for example, Clear: It’s gestures are completely skeuomorphic, don’t you think? Still, when you take a look, there’s a flat UI.

  • David Murray

    I really do hate Apple’s over the top skeuomorphism, and feel that Microsoft with Windows 8 really grasped the opportunity to pounce on Apple’s achilles heel.

    Having said that not ALL of Apple’s Skeuomorphism is over the top! The bookshelves look great and they don’t in any way hinder usability or take up unnecessary screen space. Same goes for the page swipes, it looks great, makes the iPad feel a lot easier to use for lots of people and people love it.

    However a lot of the time Apple’s skeuomorphism is downright pointless and hinders usability. The previous Podcasts design was an absolute embarrassment! Absolutely not straight-forward to use and did not look good at all, totally over the top. Contacts app is possibly the worst ever Apple app because of it’s crazy skeuomorphism. Absolutely hinders usability. It doesn’t even have a portrait mode!! And looks like a book but doesn’t swipe!

    The skeuomorphic (made up word) touches in apps like the Music app and even Find my iPhone are just completely unnecessary and make no sense. Books go in a bookcase so it’s perfectly logical to show your book collection in a bookcase. But what on earth is the point in these random touches of wood or whatever it’s supposed to be in the Music app and in some of the other ones, that have nothing to do with what the app is even about?

    If there isn’t a good reason for it, like with iBooks, the UI should be flat, not windows flat but Apple flat, i.e SHINY black like they currently have :P

    And there should also be an on-off switch in settings for skeuomorphism in all Apple apps. And in my opinion for Black vs Chrome in the flat apps too. The inconsistency makes no sense, and black looks better with black devices but chrome is better for white devices.

  • Hesham Salman

    I miss the in-between UI of Snow Leopard. Partially skeumorphic and partially flat go a long way.

  • sam

    Flat UI?

    yeah lets hope that Apple copies the Windows 8 look & feel.
    :facepalm:

    Flat UI looks terrible if the design was made using with photoshop using the color reduction tool parametrized to output only 2 or 3 colors. That is how Googles Holo UI looks like. That is how Microsofts Windows 8 UI looks like. Do you believe that Apple can do it better? I start to think that we Apple users have lost the idea about being creative and this Flat UI things is anything but creative. Oh well and don’t call it now innovative ;-) It is not! Look how far Microsoft has come from its Windows 3.1 Flat UI design to recent Windows 8 Flat UI design. I hope, prey and push all my thumbs that Apple is intelligent enough to not adopt this stupid Flat UI trend.

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      But let’s say Apple did it with the class of apps like Letterpress … then we might have a winner.

  • http://www.wilnichols.com Wil Nichols

    “Flat” usually refers to Windows 8. Do you mean native chrome? Similar to OS X.

  • http://twitter.com/juliospk Julio SPK

    The pool results preview shows that a radical change in Apple’s UIs would upset a lot of people, including me.

    Despite some little specific points of overkill skeuomorphism, a completely flat UI is even worse when it reminds us a primitive and simplistic look, like those horrible Google Search results and the early web look. Blank pages with blue links is no design at all.

    One thing that definitely could change a little bit in Mac OS is that grey menubar everywhere, from Pages to Finder and Safari. You can’t differentiate the softwares. Everything has that old grey menu on top. Here I might prefer the flexibility of Windows aero style and its beautiful glassy dark grey menu bars.

    I hope we don’t come back to a primitive and simplistic design of early tech world. Something in the middle is the answer for me.

  • Pietz

    i just know that the calendar and address book are the two worst looking applications i have ever used. i still do like skeuomorphism with some metal and glass surfaces that give it a clean look, but seriously who wants leather bindings in an app?

    i like how the buttons in osx went from rounded glass orbs in snow leopard to half-flat brushed-glass buttons in lion. i dont think i would prefer entirely flat buttons in osx. they would need to change everything to make it fit.

  • Nikita

    atm i’m working on a huge web app project. and we decide to deliver flat interface for Windwos8 users, and skeuomorph for everyone else.

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      Really? You’re making a custom UI for Windows 8 users that’s different from your default interface?

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