John Gruber recently published The Trend Against Skeuomorphic Textures and Effects in User Interface Design, attributing the recent popularity of “flat” interfaces (Letterpress, Twitterrific 5) to the adoption of retina displays. Higher resolution devices, he argues, expose flaws in skeuomorphic techniques:
They’re the aesthetic equivalent of screen-optimized typefaces like Lucida Grande and Verdana. They work on sub-retina displays because sub-retina displays are so crude. On retina displays, as with high quality print output, these techniques are revealed for what they truly are: an assortment of parlor tricks that fool our eyes into thinking we see something that looks good on a display that is technically incapable of rendering graphic design that truly looks good.
The whole article’s worth a read, though his conclusion is bold: “If you want to see the future of software UI design, look to the history of print design.” (Minus Ikea, I assume.)
Meanwhile at American Airlines, Massimo Vignelli and Henry Dreyfuss’s 1968 identity design is replaced with one draped in the same shadows and gradients bemoaned by Mr. Gruber. The “aesthetic equivalent of screen-optimized typefaces” appears to be alive and well, curiously unattached to low-res displays.
From Armin Vit’s defense of the rebrand:
This is not me trying to make an excuse for the shitstorm of gradient-, shadow-, and bevel-based logos that we’ve seen rain down on us at a large, corporate scale since 2003 when the same firm that redesigned American Airlines redesigned UPS. I hate to say it but can you really imagine Paul Rand’s UPS logo still used today? It would be anachronistic. I still relish the identities that can communicate without the need for unnecessary patinas like Fiji Airways and Starbucks. [...] But as I have been saying for the past five years or so, this new, highly polished aesthetic is the direction we are headed and we have to move beyond our preconceptions and accept those logos and identities that make appropriate use of it.
Skeuomorphism is the future of brand design. Print design is the future of interface design. Is it cyclical? Does one trail the other?
Take it away, Sebastiaan:
Very ‘flat’ UI is a meaningless reactionary design fad vs. overdesigned UI. Good designers aren’t limited by style but taste and discretion.— Sebastiaan de With (@sdw) January 18, 2013
That’s more like it.