Skeuomorphic design vs Flat design: which design technique to use, and why?

Case Study , Posted by on 2016/04/28 0     Comments
design technique to use

With the rising technological age, people are constantly on the lookout for new, improved and attention grabbing features in anything and everything. This has extended to the very basis of a website, an application, or any other such product. The User Interface, or UI, is what initially determines whether a potential user is going to be interested in your product or not. How a website or app looks goes a long way towards creating a solid impression in the minds of people. And the latest trend in UI is the debate over using a Skeuomorphic design and a Flat design! Before we go into the comparison of these two designs, however, let’s find out what design technique to use.

Skeuomorphism is a designing principle in which items almost mirror or resemble their real-life counterparts. It is also called realistic design, and it comes closest to how a particular object actually looks. Skeuomorphism is mostly used in design fields like user interface (UI), Website design, Architecture, etc.

Flat design is a minimalistic style or genre of designing principle, which focuses on the minimum use of stylistic elements to give a streamlined, simplistic portrayal of the object it represents. Instead, it utilizes simple elements, typography, and flat colors. It is mostly used in mobile apps, web applications, and graphical materials like posters and publishing products.

Now let’s take a look at the pros and cons of using a Skeuomorphic Design and a Flat design.

Skeuomorphic Design 

The skeuomorphic design was first revolutionized by Apple. They pioneered the adoption of skeuomorphism at a time when Mobile technology wasn’t that advanced. With the introduction of the iPhone, users got a feeling of nostalgia and connection to their real life. For example, the calendar app featured an image of an actual calendar, with tears and rough edges, which reminded people of an actual calendar even while using it on a digital platform. Although it is becoming increasingly obsolete, determining which design technique to use, several elements of non-visual skeuomorphism also exist to this date, such as the old school sound of a shutter closing in a mobile camera app.


  • Skeuomorphic design helps users identify and connect with what the application’s use is almost immediately. They do not have to put in any effort to make a user understand their purpose.
  • The realistic looking design gives a “safe” and “familiar” feeling to users, as they can relate to the real life object that it’s based on. This is a huge plus point, attracting them towards the application immediately.
  • This design style, with its 3-dimensional feel and textured look, is more attractive to new users, who are partial to it simply because of the design itself.
  • However the actual application might be, a Skeuomorphic design can give a feel of elegance and efficiency to it, and make users believe in it.
  • Skeuomorphic design is more pleasing to the eye, and appeals to a user’s connection with real life, thereby creating an important emotional bond with him.


  • The complexity and added textural features may cause the development time and designing to be overly cumbersome, and thus, delayed. This can even become an expensive and inefficient process.
  • The intricate design with drop shadows and textures can cause the image size to be quite large, requiring a lot more resources. This, in turn, results in the loading time to be extremely slow.
  • The designs have a tendency of relying excessively on the images themselves, rather than pure CSS.
  • These designs might become outdated and obsolete as trends change with the modern times. For example, Apple was a longtime user of Skeuomorphism in its product designs, however, with the launch of iOS 7, it ditched it, for a Flat design.
  • Inappropriate use of added textures, drop shadows and shades can create a false expectation and also take away the attention from the actual app itself. People become interested simply because of the way the application looks, without caring about the functionality and efficiency.

Flat Design 

The Flat design is most notably used by Microsoft, and actually came into being as a kind of reaction to the obsoletion of skeuomorphism, doing away with the unnecessary focus on aesthetics, and instead, implementing functionality and efficiency and choosing which design technique to use. It was widely applauded for this reason because of its appropriateness. For example, a calendar with a Flat design is a lot more practical than a skeuomorphic one, because even if it looks like a real life calendar, you cannot simply flip its pages, but rather, use the “previous” and “next” buttons for that.


  • They are quite easy to use, without the hassle of taking up too many resources. This is because of the simplicity and functional nature of the design.
  • The simplistic design makes the images smaller in size, and thus, the loading time becomes a lot less, and does not take up essential resources.
  • Simple, colourful and trendy, they are to the point, portraying exactly what they represent, without creating unrealistic expectations. What you see is what you get. Users judge it by the actual application and not just the design.
  • Being simple and 2-dimensional, scaling on various platforms and devices becomes easier, and adjusting to different screen sizes becomes more efficient
  • Flat design focuses more on functionality and efficiency, rather than aesthetics, but still manages to put forth exactly what the design portrays, and as such, does away with the unnecessary fixation on mimicking real life.


  • The biggest challenge of using a Flat Design is keeping it simple, but maintaining its uniqueness and individuality as well, since there isn’t a lot to work with.
  • Based on real life objects, but with a 2-dimensional, plain representation of it, a flat design is not what users are usually familiar with. It takes a while for them to connect the image they have in their heads to the design.
  • A flat design has a tendency of being too simplistic and plain at times, ending up being boring and uninteresting. Users might not pay any attention to the application, simply judging it on the basis of the design.
  • The Flat design also makes it difficult for action objects and clickable buttons to be made distinct and distinguishable. Without drop shadows, people have a hard time recognising the static buttons and the interactive ones.
  • The simplicity also gives off a vibe of mediocrity and has to depend solely on colours, shapes, and designs to elevate itself in the eyes of customers.

Ultimately, however, the choice is yours. Whether you choose to implement a Skeuomorphic Design or a Flat Design, you need to carefully consider both their drawbacks and strong points and decide which design technique to use and will be more suitable for your own application, based on the customers you target, the current trends, and the relevancy of that design to your application.