Jack Dorsey: Skeuomorphism's Last Hope

Jesse Fornear

October 31, 2012

Apple design in the Jony Ive, post-Jobs era

Jonathan Ive
News of Scott Forstall leaving Apple has stirred up interesting discussion around the future of UI. Speculation around Forstall's departure revolves around tension in Apple's design process, mostly pertaining to skeuomorphism vs. minimalism. According to Gruber and other reports, Forstall was a proponent of skeuomorphism while Ive was more for minimalism. Without Jobs' support, Forstall got pushed out and Ive became the final say on all things UI. It follows that skeuomorphism will play a much lesser role to minimalism for post-Jobs Apple.

Will Apple design lead the future of UI?

Apple design has been ingrained as the defacto standard for everything from UI to packaging. Deviation from the Apple aesthetic has been risky and mostly unsuccessful (Metro, Zune, etc.). Companies like Facebook valued hiring former Apple designers more than any others. What does this mean for the future of UI? If Apple abandons skeuomorphism for minimalism, is skeomorphism over? Is the future of UI up in the air? Will a Facebook-esque minimalist, utilitarian aesthetic reign for the next 5 years?

Skeuomorphism vs. minimalism

Skeuomorphism vs. minimalism is a trending topic lately. Designer Fund even held a town hall with influential designers Wilson Miner (Apple, Rdio, Facebook), Naz Hamid (Weightshift), and others to discuss the future of UI. For those new to the concept of skeuomorphism, it is when designers use visual metaphors to translate concepts from the physical world to the UI (i.e., wooden book shelves for ebooks, virtual folders, leather, torn paper, etc.). A recent Fast Company article quoted a former Apple UI designer describing skeuomorphism gone amuck as "visual masturbation".

Recent design trends show that minimalism is currently en vogue. For example, the latest Rdio redesign is mostly white and lightweight. The only visually interesting component is the album covers, arguably how the ideal music player should be. Facebook's UI is also more lightweight compared to Twitter's UI, where the visual heaviness (gradients, textures, etc.) have not aged particularly well. Quora's UI is another that has aged well thanks to visual restraint. Newer sites like Svbtle and Medium also lean toward minimalism.

Will skeuomorphism survive at Square?

Square Wallet
Square has followed Apple design more closely than anyone. For example, Square has always seemed like the answer to: "What would mobile payments look like if Steve Jobs designed it?" Skeuomorphism's demise at Apple creates a pivotal moment for Square. The Square Wallet app includes skeuomorphic stitched leather, ID cards, directories, menus, etc. Will Square continue to carry the torch for skeuomorphism, or will they pivot toward minimalism? Could Square hire Scott Forstall and go all in on skeuomorphism?

Is Jack Dorsey the next Steve Jobs?

Jack Dorsey and Steve Jobs
Jack Dorsey is frequently compared to Steve Jobs for being a product visionary and proponent of design. Jobs supported and lobbied for Forstall and his skeuomorphic UIs at Apple — is Jack now the only one capable of continuing Steve's legacy and saving skeuomorphism from the throes of irrelevance? Essentially, skeuomorphism is over unless Jack Dorsey really is the next Steve Jobs. Either skeuomorphism is over and Jack Dorsey isn't the next Steve Jobs, or skeuomorphism isn't over and Jack Dorsey is the next Steve Jobs.

Feel free to leave a comment below with your thoughts on the future of UI. For more posts like this, follow @jfornear on Twitter or @jesse on ADN.

Photo credits: David Shankbone