Design Town Hall: Skeuomorphism vs. Simplicity

Designers are a fun bunch: we’re people-people at heart (our job is to understand exactly how you guys are feeling every moment you’re using our product and how to communicate with you), but design teams are usually among the smallest – it’s common to have just one designer for every 10-15 employees at a tech startup. The design team at Asana is four-strong now (and we’re hiring!), but we’re always looking for ways to hang out, drink, and reminisce with other designers.

sketchnoteDesigners tend to agree on a lot of things (a room full of designers is easily mistaken for a thick-rimmed-stylish-glasses-convention), but one of the big issues that’s come up since the success of iOS is whether the style of using hyper-realistic textures and metaphors (called skeuomorphism) is useful or just overdone and pointless. You can see this inside iBooks (which looks like an actual book), Game Center (which is styled to resemble a casino), and countless other apps made by Apple and others. As counterpoint, more recent interfaces like Microsoft’s Windows 8 have taken the opposite approach – the experience instead focuses on collections of your photos and data instead of visual flourish, and you’re guided by large blocks of color and typography.

So last week Asana hosted a panel discussion with some pretty talented designers to duke it out. Together with DesignerFund, we had panelists Kerem Suer (who has worked with FitBit), Wilson Miner (of Facebook/Rdio fame), Mark Kawano (recently at Apple), Alan Urdan (worked on Windows 8), Naz Hamid (Weightshift), and Stephanie Hornung (from Asana) sit down for a great chat. Susan Lin‘s sketchnote captured the panelists & some of their perspectives especially well.

We were lucky enough to get an overwhelming response, and ended up not being able to fit everyone in our space. For the ones who couldn’t make it, we recorded the event and the full video is included below.

Asana has been known from the beginning as a strong engineering company, but that’s only half the story – we hire engineers who care about design (many were in the audience the other night) and designers who care about shipping products to solve any number of product design challenges every day. I’ve been making it my job recently to hang out with other designers in the area, so we were psyched to be able to hang out with a bunch of awesome product people the other night. Pixelworkers pride!

(Want to say hey? I’m @andrewwatterson on Twitter)

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