What is neumorphic design and how can it improve the user experience?

Published: 07/12/2020
Author: Vidatec

Apple recently launched its latest operating system updates and their step into neumorphism design has caused quite a stir. Neumorphism is an emerging design trend which focuses heavily on the use of gradients, shadows and highlights on various shapes to create a 3D like illusion to UI elements. While reserved for icons in Big Sur, we wonder how many will be influenced by this style to adapt other elements of their own products. The appearance of elements such as buttons and toggles in a neumorphic style give a sense of familiarity that could potentially help deliver an intuitive and enhanced user experience.

Apple has gradually started to move away from traditional flat design and opted to embrace other styles such as neumorphism. Apple described this at the launch as ‘beautifully redesigned, entirely new yet instantly familiar’.

The updates, iOS14 for iPhone and iPad and MacOS Big Sur for desktop, bring with them a range of redesigned features, but what exactly has changed and what does it mean for app development and design moving forward?

What is neumorphic design?

The name evolves from skeuomorphism, which is a process used by designers to make interface icons more familiar to users by associating them to real-life, recognisable objects. This style of design has been around for a long time, but has been used very little while the design world has been heavily filled with flat design in recent years. It typically transforms the way elements look by adding the illusion of a 3D appearance, giving them a more interactive feel – as if you can reach out and grab them. This encourages users to engage with the icons and makes them feel more comfortable with the product or feature.

However, the style appears to be on it’s way back as neumorphism or “new skeumorphism”. The combination of realistic shadowing, highlights and gradients help aid the creation of a clean, minimalist, modern interface which creates the illusion that icons are coming out from inside the background.

What are the new features of iOS14 and MacOS Big Sur?

This is Apple’s largest design update in over ten years and there has been a significant shift in both mobile and desktop appearance. The adoption of neomorphism for icons has really helped towards giving the platform a newly designed feel.

Alongside the new design, iOS14 has introduced updated versions of its App library, Siri, Messages and Maps, as well as launching a new translation app, picture-in-picture mode and widgets.

Big Sur has made similar upgrades but also features the biggest update to the Safari web browser since it was launched in 2003, which includes improved privacy settings, so users can see how websites are using their data. Big Sur has also included additional customisation to widgets by allowing users to select from 3 different variations, varying in size and levels of information, to be displayed in their notification centre.

The importance of widgets and customisation

A key aspect of the latest redesign is the fact that Apple has breathed new life into widgets and made them central to the user experience. iOS14 and Big Sur have used insights from previous Apple products to make widgets far more intuitive as well as incorporating a wealth of focused information in a constrained space.

This addition represents a big shift in Apple’s mentality as up until now they have offered very limited ways to customise widgets. The move brings them closer to the functionality that Android users enjoy; they have the ability to customise icon images and organise folders and apps in much greater detail.

Why is this important? It allows for greater flexibility when developing an app interface and adds a multitude of options for customisation. The redesigned features give our designers the opportunity to create their own widgets in a range of different shapes and sizes to produce data rich snippets that can be utilised throughout the day. With greater freedom within the design process it means our team can build widgets into the main functionality of apps and bring the brands to life through users’ home screens.

What does the future hold?

Is neumorphic design the future of design? Apple has been known to keep a tight grip on its products and processes in the past. Whilst being extremely well received for the icons on Big Sur, questions are raised on whether it will be adopted to the same degree for other interactive elements of the UI such as buttons. As visually pleasing as the vast concepts of neomorphism designs are, one large issue remains. Typically the level of accessibility this style provides is poor due to similar colours often only being divided by shadows and highlights. As more brands continue to adopt and experiment with this style, we can continue to learn more about when it works and when it doesn’t

Design is an integral part of the development process we use at Vidatec and we’re excited about the shift to neomorphism. It adds another level of customisation for our UX and UI designers, giving them greater freedom to bring clients ideas and brands to life.

iOS14 and MacOS Big Sur help demonstrate why we can be excited about the future of design.

To find out more about how Vidatec can support your organisation with app design and development, take a look at our full range of services.