This is a sponsored post from my good friends over at Infragistics.
Think of the last time you heard someone say “no, we can’t put that feature in the application because it might make our users more comfortable”. It is probably difficult to think of a time someone said something like that to you because it’s not the way we think as developers and even as designers most of the time. So, why then are many vocal people in the design community rallying against designs that try to incorporate real world elements? There’s even a website dedicated to ridiculing these designs. I think these designers are missing the point. The main reason these elements are put in the design in the first place is to add a bit of familiarity to the interface. It’s to delight the user!
Skeuomorphism is a hot word these days. The loose definition cited on Wikipedia is “an element of design or structure that serves little or no purpose in the artifact fashioned from the new material but was essential to the object made from the original material.” A classic example from the physical world is the leather grain texture applied to a lot of vinyl automobile interiors. Opponents of skeuomorphism will frequently point to Apple’s recent application designs for iOS and OS X. The examples will include iCal which features stitched leather and torn paper edges and iBooks with its wood grain 3D bookshelf. The latest app to catch fire was the Podcasts app which has a near replica of a reel to reel tape deck complete with fairly accurate mechanics. It serves no purpose in the app other than to delight the user. Are there more “authentically digital” ways to represent the same information this tape deck illustrates? Sure. Are they even half as engaging and cause people to write articles about them? Nope.
I think it’s time we look at a different definition of skeuomorphism that I’d like to propose for the opponents of it. Here’s how I’d like to redefine it: “taking an element from something most people are familiar with and incorporating it into something most people aren’t familiar with”. We tend to forget as developers and designers of applications that the majority of our users are not comfortable with computers and software. Having that extra little bit of familiarity and delight might be the little thing that helps them connect with our app. Is the use of skeuomorphism a little heavy handed at times? I certainly would not argue with that. I would argue that it is helping more than it is hurting though. After all, what’s so bad about delighting users?
If you’d like to discuss this topic with me further, you can find me on Twitter @brentschooley. My colleague Ambrose Little (@ambroselittle) also covered this topic in great detail here so please read that as well if you found this interesting.
About the Author
Brief bio: Brent Schooley is a technical evangelist for Infragistics. His
current focuses include mobile technologies and Windows 8. He is a
developer who focuses on good design. He is the author of “Designing
for Windows 8“.