Skeuomorphism (in graphical UI design) describes interface objects that mimic their real-world counterparts in how they appear and/or how the user can interact with them. A well-known example is the recycle bin icon used for deleting content. Skeuomorphism makes interface objects familiar to users by using concepts they recognise. Skeuomorphism represents affordances in digital user interfaces. It fits with our natural interpretation of objects in the digital world.
Skeuomorphism is related to what the psychologist James Gibson termed “affordances”. Affordances refer to action possibilities of objects or other features of the environment. The most commonly cited examples of affordances include door handles and push buttons; their physical designs inform users that they can be rotated or pushed.
Affordances are a key concept for designers. To build products that are intuitive and easy to use, fully understanding the relationship between the human mind and technology is crucial.It has been widely debated, however, whether users have become so accustomed to interacting with graphical user interfaces that skeuomorphism is no longer necessary. UIs that contain natural-looking objects can make an interface look cluttered, may not scale well to small sizes, and some objects mimicked in skeuomorphism have become obsolete and meaningless to users (e.g., the floppy disk for the “Save” action). Proponents, on the other hand, argue that humans can never become as accustomed to the digital world as we are to the physical world—so, simple skeuomorphism will continue to be helpful.
So what’s flat design?
Flat design is a UI design style that uses simple, two-dimensional elements and a restricted colour palette. Gone is the illusion of 3D representations of physical buttons. Its popularity became prominent with Windows 8, Apple’s iOS 7, and Google’s Material Design. With the use of simple shapes and minimal textures, flat design ensures that responsive designs work well on the whole range of digital devices (from desktop to mobile).
So flat design wins?
Not so fast! Recent developments of widely used UIs like Apple’s revised operating system (macOS Big Sur, Autumn Release 2020) mark a return to skeuomorphism, and away from symbolic flat design. But closer inspection reveals the search for a balance between approaches. Iconography, in particular, has retained a simplified set of elements (reminiscent of flat design) whilst using a consistent use of shadow and gradient to increase affordance.
And the short answer?
HUBmis is most heavily influenced by flat design because the MIS is a feature-rich environment, often demanding a range of complex interfaces to aid task completions e.g. timetabling classes. The emphasis must, therefore, focus on an uncluttered UI naturally found through flat design, with skeuomorphic concepts used only sparingly.
As a UX/UI Designer, how does HUBmis’ interface stand out from its competitors?
The joy of working on HUBmis is that we’ve been able to start from scratch. We’ve had a blank canvas to look at everything a modern SaaS product running an educational MIS needs. The latest technical frameworks such as CSS Grid allow the very best modern drag-and-drop interfaces to be designed and applied where needed. The very latest psychological research allows the new world of UX to dominate every decision we make, to ensure that the product works like a dream for the user, as well as providing the wealth of product features that our 35 years in the education sector allow us to deploy.