Scott Forstall on skeuomorphic design

“Last night’s Computer History Museum interview with Scott Forstall was loaded with rich storytelling and candid anecdotes, and the whole thing is absolutely worth watching if you haven’t yet,” Zac Hall reports for 9to5Mac. “Museum historian John Markoff even asked the question that was on everyone’s mind before the interview started: What does Scott Forstall think about modern iOS design?”

“Forstall, and Steve Jobs for that matter, were known for having a taste for so-called skeuomorphic design. Real world materials like leather and paper would appear in software design especially on the iPad where the Contacts app looked like a real address book and the Calendar app was bound by leather,” Hall reports. “Following Forstall’s firing (in part over his refusal to sign an apology for the botched Apple Maps rollout which unfortunately didn’t come up), Jony Ive took over software design which led to iOS 7 and beyond to what we have today.”

If you look at the designs we did at Apple, we talked about photo illustrative designs, metaphorical designs. And those were infused into the design sense of Apple by Steve Jobs since the original Mac if not earlier. The original Mac had a desktop and folders that looked very much like the desktop on which that Mac sat. And so we used these design philosophies. It doesn’t mean that we loved every single part of it. It doesn’t mean I loved every single part of it. There’s definitely things that I was less a fan of than others. — Scott Forstall

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take:

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works. — Steve Jobs


    1. I am looking forward to watching/listening to Scott Forstall’s interview with greater anticipation than I have looked forward to any of the recent Apple events the past couple of years. That says something (to me at least). A redemptive return might be something worth cheering about if it doubtfully ever were to happen.

    2. Wholeheartedly agree!

      Scott has the tech chops and credentials to inspire Apple to even greater heights after mentor Steve.

      The current caretaker CEO knows nothing about writing a line of code or how to turn on, much less use, a MacPro.

      But he sure is gifted on diversity watch bands, rainbow colors and fashion shows … 😉

      1. Those things are important too, to a lot of people. But I consider them secondary to Apple’s primary mission, which I consider almost holy — put the power in the hands of the people. Any other corporate objective falls into pig-trough categories.

    3. No, Apple does not need Scott Forstall back. Forstall’s obsession with Jobs is too creepy. He is definitely no Steve Jobs, and he won’t be making a grand return like Jobs.

      Things are better off with Ive and Federighi in charge of everything.

      1. No, not ‘in charge of everything‘. As I often point out, companies need to ‘breathe’ as in OUT with the bad old air, IN with the good new air. Apple’s recent face plants have a lot to do with stagnation within its management and R&D.

        Good change is Good.

      2. Forstall for CEO.

        Cook for Diversity/Fashion Apple Stores V.P.

        What’s creepy is the look on Tim’s face in all the photographs with Presudent Trump the other day at the Ehite House tech summit. He never smiled, creepy grande …

    4. I miss Scott almost as much as I miss Steve. There is a similarity with them that was the heart of Apple for a long time. Just is not the same. And the Keynotes don’t have that spark and charisma, they are more executed robotically. Steve can never be back, but Apple should recognize it’s error and bring back Scott. What’s left there is not better than him, even though they obviously think they are.

  1. There’s a purpose for skeuomorphic design – to bring familiarity to something that might otherwise put people off. It makes sense at the beginning to “comfort” people that might be new to something “technical”, but once that wears off, it’s no longer needed and can make the interface feel “heavy”.

    If you look at the pre-iOS 7 interface it looks downright chunky.

    1. The current interface is lifeless & boring. Worse, despite bigger screens on all devices now compared to ios 6, too much common user commands are hidden. Way too much clicking and swiping. Ive wasted effort on making everything grey rather than making it intuitive and fast to use.

      1. Generally, I don’t agree. Personal opinion is just that, personal and opinion, not universal truth. There are things about the current interface that I like, things that I don’t. What little I have seen of iOS 11, I really like. But that’s just my personal opinion.

        1. So just to be clear, Andy made a personal opinion, you disagreed with it with your own personal opinion…but just you are entitled to your own opinion. Is that what you meant?

          1. It sounded to me like Sparkles was simply countering Andy’s opinion. It’s called, “dialogue.” Sparkles made no assertion that Andy didn’t have a right to his opinion. I appears that you are looking for a fight where there is none.

            1. The internet is a place, as several people have observed, where it’s easy to pick a fight and, if it looks like you aren’t winning, easy to back out.

    2. To be fair, the skeuomorphism would have developed over 4 iOS generations at this point. It would have smoothed up, sharpened up, cleaned up with each iteration.

  2. Very good answer by Scott.

    My opinion of skeuomorphic design, specifically in terms of computing is that it’s a stepping stone, something that familiarises you with the digital concept of a tool that was once analogue. Once you get users familiar with the digital version, skeuomorphic design becomes redundant.

    1. In other words as long as the user base is not familiar with computing devices (e.g. children, elderly that rarely use computers) skeuomorphic design will help bring them in. Apple changing their design away from skeuomophism could be a reason for a decrease in ‘new’ users’ desire to use iOS over alternatives like Android.

  3. I think there is an answer, and that is to add a ‘pro’ UI layer to mac/iphone interfaces. You can have widgets that have a skew skin and a pro skin. Once the user gets proficient, they can just check a setting to change it to the pro UI.

    I never had a problem with skeuomorphism. I never hear a substantive benefit to getting rid of it. You hear things like ‘chunky’ which are meaningless. While the benefits of skeuomorphism are pretty clear in making an interface more instantly approachable. It seems the biggest reason to get rid of it was to make brooklyn hipsters and font boffins not able to send mean tweets about it, i.e., no good reason.

    1. That’s a reasonable compromise. I have noted that Samsung devices for years has a ‘simple’ mode setting that changes the interface for ‘beginner’ users that can be toggled off when the user is more experienced. Maybe Apple can do something similar.

  4. I ike Higo’s perspective. skeuomorphic design elements could have benefited fromcontinual refinement. Instead it was unceremoniously assigned to the trash heap of history. I’ve been using Apple products for close to 30 years and don’t need skeuomorphism. However, I really miss the elegant, playful humanizing of the technology that it provided.

    1. Nothing, at least in the short term. I can imagine real 3D being built into the GUI. But Apple has been avoiding 3D GUI elements for well over a decade at this point. So I don’t hold out much hope. My guess is that they find making the ‘desktop’ or other metaphors too real is too confusing for users. Beats the hell out of me why, seeing as we all live 24/7 in a 3D world.

      1. Exactly!

        To back up your tireless point on 3D GUI, yes, from grandma to grandkids understands real life designs in a heart beat. You don’t need a guide from the Museum of Modern Art to guide through esoteric design …

  5. “When I look at good design, when I look for good design, I look for something which is easy to use. Approachable. Friendly. You can use it without a manual. It’s fun.

    If you look at the designs we did at Apple, we talked about photo illustrative designs, metaphorical designs. And those were infused into the design sense of Apple by Steve Jobs since the original Mac if not earlier.”

    As I have been saying since day one of the flat abstract iOS7 design debut — skeuomorphic design just WORKS — from grandma to grandchild. Nothing since has replaced the clarity and user interface navigation.

    Thanks, Scott and Steve …

    1. I remember you, Goeb. You championed clarity in design even as the pundits lined up to parrot the idea that “Apple was falling behind Microsoft and Android in modern phone interface design.” – that was the typical media drumbeat at the time, and became a meme repeated over and over.. And you took the time to persuade me that human interface elements were important, and that as a user I should consider how a device works for me, and pay no attention to self-styled experts.

      That approach is quite refreshing, in a world where we are constantly being advised to go against our every instinct.. which I suspect can’t be wholly healthy, no matter what experts claim..

      1. I clearly remember your responses, as well, Herself. You made many thoughtful arguments at the time.

        Inquisitive and fairly searching all meme sides at first and then moved on to study the impact of an abrupt design departure from the SS team.

        Well, if I had anything do with your conversion, more than glad to help, my friend … 😊

  6. We should never get too literal about any design principle or rule. They exist because there are studies about human behavior, but there is an important space for interpretation and also for human behavior adaptation and evolution. Or movies, art or music and all design will be static.

    I don’t think iOS is better without any design principle, that is absurd. What we have are better adaptations or interpretation of a principle and less successful ones.

    Even some kind of abstract skeuomorphism could be used here and there, but eliminating it completely is not justified. That is like saying you don’t need straight lines anymore in design. At some point a line becomes straight or needs to be straight and there is not a real problem with that.

  7. I personally loved the skeuomorphic design of iOS. It was so elegant, and it was one of the things that really set the iPhone apart from Android and other operating systems. One of the main reasons I jailbreak my iPhone is so that I can restore the skeuomorphic design…love it. I hate the flat, washed out look of iOS now; turns my stomach

  8. I’m into diversity as an aspect of creativity.


    I’m sick to death of Jony Ive’s kindergarten version of the macOS GUI. I want some skeuomorphic design back on my desktop, dammit! I want Scott Forstall back! (A more mature version please).

  9. Cook can’t hire Forstall back, because he is a threat for the seat of CEO…it was never really about design. Ive’s interface is like his watch design…designed by 40-somethings for 40-somethings. Dare I use the word BORING! Nothing is any longer interesting or more intuitive than GoogOS. Gray is cool at first, but later looks Old Man, just like my kids baseball uniforms. Cook does many things well, but he is boring…plain and simple. The media loved Jobs or loved to hate Jobs just like they do Trump because he kept them on their toes and was unpredictable. Consumers desperately want a form factor change in iPhone 8 to rad the fad and have the latest thing for their money spent. It’s more about impressing family and friends than anything else useful Apple can create or copy.

  10. I do all of my personal freelance work on OSX, only use iOS in an iPhone, and elementary use of an iPad.

    Unfortunately I do have a full time job where I must be on Windows.

    The point is that in the 3 operating systems, I work in about 20 apps.

    This means I have to MEMORIZE the meanings of dozens of icons because every app developer seems to think the world is entitled to his or her personal “artistic” rendition of an icon, and who cares if it actually communicates anything!

    When I design my own icons, I incorporate something (oh horrors, maybe even TEXT!) so that the user knows the function of the icon! How revolutionary is that?

    So am I beginning to hate icons? YES, I can’t find polite language to describe most of them.

    1. Amen – the GUI craze got out of hand. Moving among different machines set with different forests of icons is disorienting. The original command-line interface was a paradise compared to the confusing menageries people keep on their desktops today.

  11. Unbelievable! All those who want Scott back now were carrying pitch forks and torches back when he was castigated and sacked.
    Just dig up the posts from that time and you’ll all see yourselves in a new light. What’s the point of me bringing this up? Just venting some anger at the damage caused by a mob. I’ll be alright in a moment. Deep breath….

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