Can Good Design Just Let Go of the Past?

A lot has been made of the use—and over use—of skeuomorphism in iOS and OS X. I think it’s safe to say that dead horse has been well and truly beaten enough. Here’s the thing, the essential thing, that we’ve forgotten—sometimes skeuomorphism works and we need it to make sense of things.

Take some time to read the post on the Realmac software blog about design and skeuomorphism. One of the examples in the post is their app Courier, which I bought some time ago to do mass uploads to Facebook for a client, and yeah cute interface, totally didn’t get it. It happens. In the post, they admit, yep…clever idea, but just not the right way to get the job done.

Then there are things like iBooks. Sure it’s a little odd to have “pages” in a virtual book that is really dimensionless, but it makes us comfortable and we like it. Even subtle things like the Settings icon. It’s gears, it’s the inner workings, tap that and you’re under the hood. Clever and it works.

Blux movie HD

It comes down to this, and the title of the post, no good design can’t let go of the past. Dieter Rams’ 10 principles of good design rely just as much in a grounding in the past as they do a vision of the future. One of my new favorite apps is Blux Camera (and Movie). I didn’t quite get it at first, some things made sense, because they used standard icons, but other elements didn’t make sense. How do I do this? How do I adjust that? Why can’t I shift between effects easily by “turning” the dial?

Blux camera for iPad

I’d say, with the exception of the screen looking like rippling water when a widget is turned off or on, it is a clever, clever app that helps me both just learn to use it by doing and become more comfortable with it as I go. Why is that? Because parts of it, the right parts, are based on things I know and can grab from the real world. Switching between different photo modes is like turning a dial, except it’s easier to tap the dial than turn it. Oh and there are two dials. Outer for the “big” effect and the inner for the tuning (back lit, cloudy, rainy, sunshine). Sure it borrows from film cameras, but in a way that makes sense. Dials to change things make sense. The zoom slider goes up and down. Makes sense. Other ways to tune the picture (and there are many, many ways before you even take the shot) stay out of the way until you need them. Then, again, they are based on sliding adjustments up or down.

Makes perfect sense.

This is just one (non-Apple for once) example of where blending the familiar helps learn the new. Where the past helps guide to understand something. Apple has certainly lost its way of late, but I think they’ll get back there.

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