Neumorphism and Why to Skip This One
6 min readApr 07, 2021.
Emerging in late 2019, neumorphism quickly became the next hot thing in digital design. A myriad of designer shots quickly flooded Behance and Dribble profiles, leaving the designer community in ecstasy. Likes were pouring in and blogs and forums couldn’t get enough of the new sensation called neumorphism. The movement gained momentum and before you knew it, many designers started experimenting with it. But is it really that good?
Combo of good old design giants
Neumorphism and its soft UI play with the elements of both flat design and skeuomorphism, and the name of the style itself represent the new and improved version of its older brother, skeuomorphism. (‘neu’ as new). The main elements of the style are very soft inner and outer shadows, used to create extruded-like objects, and mainly pale colors (white, gray or beige), all serving the same purpose, a dominant idea of depicting real-like, plastic objects that hover over the surface. However, the tendency to present overly realistic 3D elements that give us a tangible sense of gravity will inevitably cause some development issues, in addition to the ones already emerging from the design style itself.
Major challenges for UX
We cannot argue that it looks great in black, we all do, but a design style should be more versatile than that. And the problem intensifies with buttons. Buttons are appealing in the pressed state, but, eventually, you’ll have to turn some of them off. And then, they are simply not visible enough - they lack contrast. This brings us to another problem. Accessibility. When combined with other elements, neumorphism can be a great thing. But if your whole app is done in neumorphic style, the accessibility issues become a real threat to the success of your design. Those with visual impairment problems won’t be able to see the difference between a button being on and off. Moreover, lack of contrast becomes more apparent for those whose screens have lower quality or brightness.
And there is also the development process, with all its ups and downs. Your app will rarely look as good as you designed it, due to the technical limitations imposed. Truth be told, developers tend to rely on libraries and templates as much as possible, and since they are quite scarce for now, there are no easy ways to efficiently code neumorphic design. This style simply demands perfection and effects that are not easily achieved. Some people might claim otherwise, and say it is easy to transform the design into working code, but trust me, this is not the best way to make friends in the dev team, especially if you are a newbie designer.
It can’t be all that bad, can it?
You can always play with typography and elements that have a higher level of contrast, combine neumorphic elements with those from another style... And when it comes to the problem with the lack of contrast in buttons - this can be partially solved by adding color to other elements of the button (borders, texts, icons, etc), but the question of how user-friendly all that is, remains. And a simple test you can do right now will say it all. Just show a few Neumorphism examples to your colleagues around the office, and ask them how they find it. What I got is pretty much summed up below: ‘Is that button on or off?’ ‘Can I click on this or is it just a part of the design? ‘Looks cool in dark mode’ And that’s it. It’s easy to get dazzled by the unorthodox beauty and forget UI design 101, but running your ideas by the actual user will quickly get you back on track.
New doesn’t necessarily mean better
Blindly following the latest trends is only justified if what you created aligns with some basic guidelines of good web design, the design which is accessible, user-friendly, simple, and most of all conventional. Thinking (and designing) out of the box is awesome, but users are not accustomed to big changes that happen at once. So you might want to leave pushing the envelope for something non-UX-related. No one is talking about following the WCAG guidelines to the letter, we can always throw some creativity into the mix, but neumorphism shouldn’t be our first choice. And let’s not forget, neumorphism works only when done right. So even if you do everything by the book, the result depends not only on you but on many other factors you cannot control. Including the user. That means that you can try really hard, practice a lot, constantly oversee the coding process, and maybe it will look good. But in the end, you won’t be able to sell it. The best proof of that is CTA. The call to action has to be big and flashy to work, and neumorphism just isn’t. Whether we like it or not, the bottom line is clear here. Neumorphism is too out of the box, so even when done right, it will hardly ever become user-approved.
The users will have the last say
When all of the above considered, the future of those who dare to embark on this journey looks rather grim. When it comes to web design, the end product has to be luring to the majority. Majority of users, not designers. And though you might find Neumorphism appealing, due to the fact it looks really good when done by those who really know the ropes (and sequentially, in dark mode), we have to think whether it is marketable or not. If the accessibility is low, it simply won’t sell. So before jumping on this bandwagon, you might want to reconsider. And whatever you decide in the end, bear in mind that the user has the last word. And they like the good old conventions more than anything else.