Yves Behar on skeuomorphic design
and Apple


Yves Behar on skeuomorphic design at 100% Design

Developing hardware and software at the same time is design's "new frontier", according to industrial designer Yves Behar. Speaking to Dezeen editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs at 100% Design yesterday, the industrial designer said bringing 3D designers and interface designers together was "a whole new blue ocean" adding, "Apple is actually a little bit behind in that area." Update: this interview is featured in Dezeen Book of Interviews, which is on sale now for £12 (+ audio).

"What I've been really interested in is, when these things get designed together, as one, really new interesting paradigms, really new interesting experiences are happening," said Behar. "And let me say just one thing; probably it's going to be a little bit provocative: nobody is really doing that today. Even Apple is designing their product and their software separately."

Behar rejected the "skeuomorphic" approach adopted by companies including Apple, which has led to the grainy leather-effect Calendar and wood-effect bookshelf applications in its products.

User-interface designers have typically attempted to evoke familiar real-world objects when designing digital applications such as calendars, books and diaries, arguing that this approach leads to more intuitive interfaces that users feel more comfortable with.

Behar questioned why those same companies' hardware designers rejected the skeuomorphic approach and said it was akin to getting one industrial design team to design the outside of a chair and another to design the inside.

"You could use the exact same explanation for a hardware product," Behar said. "You could say "I don't know what a tablet is, I've never used a tablet. Let's make it look like a book. Or let's make it look like my leather-bound notepad. Obviously they didn't go there with the hardware so why did they go there with the software? It's a really good question. There's now many companies looking at it in a way that's quite interesting and Apple actually is a little bit behind in that area."

Behar has set up a user interface group at his San Francisco design studio Fuseproject to explore how to bring the two disciplines together. "That's a whole new blue ocean for us as designers, it's a new frontier," he said.

Apple was this week named best design studio of the past 50 years at a one-off D&AD award ceremony.

Behar has designed products inculding the XO affordable computer for One Laptop Per Child and the Jambox portable wireless speaker for Jawbone. See more Dezeen stories about his work.

Dezeen’s Marcus Fairs is also hosting Dezeen Live at 100% Design daily. Today's show starts at 5pm in the auditorium and will feature talks from Dominic Wilcox, Asif Khan and Daniel Charny plus a DJ/musical performance featuring Dezeen Music Project.
See this week’s full Dezeen Live lineup »
See all our stories about the London Design Festival »

  • K.P.

    Oh please, his “new thinking” is exactly what made Apple what it is. Back in 1984 or I don’t know when they introduced the Mac. Come on. Who gives this guy a forum? Who is he? Oh, he created the Jambox? Now I see.

  • R.E.

    Just because you read this article does not make you knowledgeable on design, K. P. The fact that you don’t know Yves Behar or his accomplishments testifies to you lack of understanding. What he is saying is that skeumorphism worked well back when we were unfamiliar with personal computing and digital interfaces, but now that we all understand the function of a digital calendar, it need not look like a calendar that exists on an actual wall. Instead we should be pushing the envelope of what is possible given we can throw away those preconceptions of physical objects.

    • henkojinko

      Nicely stated. As a web-designer for mostly small companies, I am forced to be far from the bleeding-edge of design aesthetics. However, when larger companies start adopting facets of newer design concepts, it really helps to pave the way for the rest of us.

      Seeing large companies like Apple push this envelope really help to dispel their fears that their site visitors won’t “get it”.

  • Tim K

    Another designer just sees the chance to get noticed by abstractly challenging the maker of products much more complex and beautiful than the Jambox? Skeuomorphic or not it’s really a subjective thing and I think you have to be quite shallow to think that this is a good question:
    “You could say “I don’t know what a tablet is, I’ve never used a tablet. Let’s make it look like a book. Or let’s make it look like my leather-bound notepad. Obviously they didn’t go there with the hardware so why did they go there with the software?”
    Because it isn’t.
    the “new thinking” wasn’t new for sure. But guess we’ll see if this guy really got some “new doing” coming out from his UI studio.

  • sradney

    I find this dialogue quite interesting, largely because it’s extremely shallow, coming from a respected designer.

    Skeuomorphism is really just a tool (not a style) for connecting emotionally by engaging as many of the senses – and neurons – as possible. In the context of UI, history is a ‘sense’ that’s often overlooked. I mean that deeply engrained instinct, or behavior, about something that can’t be explained. You say ‘intuitive.’ I say ‘instinct.’ Naoto says ‘without thought.’ Again, I say ‘instinct.’

    So, maybe Apple’s style (read: execution) of skeuomorphism may bug some people. The incremental evolution of iOS may bug some people. At the end of the day, I’d wager that it’s a major contributor to the overall stickiness of the Apple experience. Quoting Jay-Z, “men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.”

    Go design an iOS app with your own skeuomorphs, Yves! You lost a few cool points on this one, bro!

  • As a graphic designer I am among those who find the Apple icons dated. However they have been, and continue to be, a brilliant signpost between app and hardware.

    My mother is completely baffled by icons but understands the bookshelf in a split second. The illustrations will be phased out in time, and replaced by something equally literate.

  • Even the bookshelf itself is an example of “skeuomorphic” approach, because it is very often made of prefab nowadays and the wood bit is just for decoration so it just works. It’s just a human response to a natural adaptation to the environment.