Apple’s brand is an outgrowth of its product design—and both are the envy of every other company on the planet.
So it is a touch shocking that Apple, of all companies, has something of an internal riot on its hands.
The problem is something called skeuomorphism, which is when a software user-interface is designed in a way that mimics design from the offline, non-software world.
For example, the place where readers go to open up iBooks on their iPads looks like a bookshelf (see above).
Apple loves skeuomorphism because Steve Jobs loved it, and current software boss Scott Forstall does too.
But Austin Carr has a long story in Fast Company about how some of the designers who work for the company—including rock-star designer Jony Ive—are sick of it, and that a “revolt” is close to breaking out.
Carr writes: “Inside Apple, tension has brewed for years over the issue. Apple iOS SVP Scott Forstall is said to push for skeuomorphic design, while industrial designer Jony Ive and other Apple higher-ups are said to oppose the direction.”
Skeuomorphism is “visual masturbation,” one former senior UI designer at Apple tells Carr.
“It’s like the designers are flexing their muscles to show you how good of a visual rendering they can do of a physical object. Who cares?”
“iCal’s leather-stitching was literally based on a texture in [Jobs’] Gulfstream jet,” this source tells Carr.
“There was lots of internal email among UI designers at Apple saying this was just embarrassing, just terrible.”
What interests us about all this is that these kinds of debates have always been a part of what goes on in a creative company like Apple.
The difference now is that in the past, Steve Jobs was there to tell everyone who disagreed with him to get lost. His way or the highway.
He’s gone now, and the question has to be, in a post-Jobs era when there is no longer a single adjudicator whom everyone respects and defers to, can Apple remain both a company where its brand is an outgrowth of its product design, and stay the envy of every other company in the world?