I got involved w/ interactive digital design when tools were extremely limited and standards nonexistent. In those early daze skeumorphism (making the 2-dimensional screen emulate the “real world” environment – often by looking ‘three-dimensional’) was necessary. People had no visual norms. A clickable item needed to “look like a button” – and we (designers) went through a lot of effort to try to achieve that visual effect. ExamplesVideotex: Before We Called It the Web

  • The upside: User-agency was obvious
  • The downside: An interactively-rich environment could get visually clunky

The emergence of the Internet in the 90’s brought new norms (s.a Underlining doesn’t mean ‘emphasis’ – It means ‘clickable’.)


By the early mid-2000’s the Web became seriously mainstream commercial and marketing/styling emerged as more of a perceived success factor. Mobile phones in 2010 reduced the available display space, new interaction models (swipe-ability) altered behavior, and helpfully invasive (“Don’t make me think”) apps removed the need to make interaction decisions.

In many ways, Style has supplanted user-centricity.


It’s all about agency. The issue is not so much usability as it is usage. Skeuomorphic design insists on action. Flat design ignores it. The hint as to what you should do is in the affordance provided.

There appears to be – finally – some pushback from a portion of the population which wants to actively use interactive systems. This will be interesting.

Styling is important. And it’s valuable. But it’s not a strategy.


© The Communication Studio LLC