Skeuomorphism vs. Flat Design: Some Inspirations

The design industry is rethinking Skeuomorphism lately. Whether flat design is a more appealing approach or Skeuomorphism is still  in its prime time.I was reading all those arguments and think to myself: Maybe they can work hand-in-hand instead of mutual exclusive? So I went out and did some inspirations search. The results are encouraging, not exactly proved my point but still offer a possible direction, here’s what I found:

1. Tiny Tower


‘Tiny Tower’  is a mobile business simulation game developed by NimbleBit. It’s 8-bit ‘Pixel Art’ style created a new genre on game graphics. Look at the above picture closely, you’ll find there are some little ‘glow’ effect on top of the arcade machine, and some strong shadow on the wall from ceiling down. So the art style is 8-bit pixelized and very 2-D (flat), but it also has some shadows, glows and subtle textures (which all add up to the chrome just like skeuomorphism design do), to create some depth and visual appeal.

2. Minecraft


Minecraft’s graphic design is ‘crude’. The entire world is built by all the little square blocks. Yet, if you put up some torches on the little hut you just built at night, you’ll find a very cozy orange glow around the torch. The glow is totally not ‘crude’. Another good example of combining lo-fidelity ‘flat’ elements with subtle hi-fidelity effects.

3. Fez


Fez is another platformer game using pixel art style. The game play is quite unique. You are a 2D creature that performing all the jumps and climbing in a 2D world, but you can change perspective, which will result in a 90 degree turn where a 3D world is revealed to you.(See picture above) The visual is 2D, but the interaction and the more dynamic part of the design is 3D, which offer another new approach.

4. Path


Path is a perfect example of the strength when you combine flat and simple UI elements with subtle textures and effects. They really get it right and have the best of both worlds. The title bar is very subtly ‘textured’ yet still looks very clean and digital.(Upper part of the picture) The ‘Flyout Menu’ (red circle with ‘+’ or ‘x’ int he middle) has a very light ‘glossy effect’, but all the other action buttons are represented by flat circles (Middle part of the picture). All the emotion icons are totally flat though. (Lower part of the picture) The overall design language is flat for sure, but they spice it up with some textures, shadows, glossy effects here and there without breaking the clean look and feel. Really a marvelous job done.

5. Clear


Clear is the app that pioneer the ‘movement’ from skeuomorphism to flat design. But even Clear has gradient in it. It also support different themes, so if user get bored with one color scheme, they can switch to another one that they like.


Image: By

Also, Clear’s static visual design is flat and simple, its interaction animation is very interesting. For example, to create a to-do item in the middle of a list, user can simply pinch apart the list where they want the item created, then the list will unfold like a folded paper. It’s 100% skeuomorphism in action, drawing reference from real world experience of childhood paper-folding.

To Sum it up…

Skeuomorphism and Flat design are all but two different design languages. Each has its strength and limitation, and will fit into different scenarios to solve design problems. There’s no absolute right or wrong about using them, it’s just how well it fits into the problem you want to solve and the audience you want to please. And be creative! The above examples proves that you can use them both and still yielding fascinating results!



Giant’s regret?


Image: Nokia

Nokia has recently confirmed in an interview that they won’t rule out Android’ as a future OS option just yet. Very interesting development in the mobile industry indeed.

Some said that the move for Nokia to partner with Microsoft (which at that time had no proven success in mobile, no ecosystem strength) is a misstep in the first place. The development we saw today may just be the hard facts starting to kick in. Things might be different should Microsoft and Nokia move faster and deliver more, but for two giants like they are, I’m not surprised they haven’t  managed more.  The entire tech industry’s shift to mobile happens not only in technology front, but also in mind-set. Being mobile means you’ll have to move faster (have more products delivered per year), be more creative (some time as destructive as Apple), be more flexible (enter Samsung, with their hundreds of different types of handsets released per year), to even survive.

Having said that, I still think there’s hope for the Microsoft-Nokia duo:

1. Windows OS is unique in experience


Image: Metro UI via AnandTech

No matter how Android fans try to defend it, the Android OS offer similar if not inferior experience like iOS. But Windows  Modern UI (used to be Metro UI, they changed the term to avoid trademark problem) is totally designed from ground up to be unique and it’s a well thought out design at that. The Windows experience feels more ‘fluidly’ in using (surprise surprise!) thanks to all the smooth and cool screen transition animations. The interface is very minimalistic and easy to use, a breath of fresh air on the look and feel of the heavily-chromed Android/iOS UI and fits into Nokia’s conventional UI style quite well. Even the most die-hard Apple fan boy can’t accuse Windows Modern UI being a copycat.

2. Windows OS is patent-infringement proof

The entire industry is keeping a close eye on the ongoing Samsung’s ‘lawsuit of the century’ with Apple, and the attention is very well deserved. Because it will carve out the future shape of mobile OS landscape. If OEMs end up needing to pay a high loyalty fee to use Android OS, then suddenly Microsoft become very appealing as an alternative. Not all company has the deep pocket and thick face to go into a huge law suit war with Apple like Samsung did.

3. Scale wise, Microsoft-Nokia is the only candidate to compete with the Google-Samsung duo.


Scale still counts these days. Without Google’s influence on Internet and Samsung’s huge business machine on developing and delivering hundreds of devices per year, Android won’t be at the place they are today. To match it, similar scale is almost a must. (Look at Palm’s ‘downfall’ as a proof of this point, they have all the correct ingredients, just not big enough to push for ecosystem penetration to a tipping point. ) Combining Nokia’s market share and reputation on mobile device and Microsoft’s influence (mind share) on desktop OS, they definitely should be able to compete head to head with anyone.

Whatever Nokia or Microsoft want to do, they must act fast and don’t ever look back. Nokia might be the no.1 mobile device manufacturer and Microsoft the no.1 desktop OS, but those are history and holds very little credit on a fast paced, ever-changing mobile industry.