How does skeuomorphism in digital design affect user experience?

I am finding myself becoming very interested in the skeuomorphism conversation that is happening in our industry. It is easy to dislike this design concept at first glance because of some of the poor design choices made for a few popular applications, but the user experience considerations of skeuomorphism add a whole new layer to the conversation.

How do we know whether or not our iPhone camera has taken a photo? How do we decide how to navigate through a book on our iPad? How can we get the satisfaction of crossing a task off of our digital list? There is substantial room for skeuomorphic design to be updated and improved on the IOS interface, but I don’t think it’s possible to completely get away from it. The skeuomorphic sound of a click when a photo is taken is an important audio cue. Flipping the corners of the iPad to get to the next page of a book is a natural gesture. Seeing a task with a strike through the text is just as satisfying digitally as on a physical notepad.

Those in favor of skeuomorphic design argue that the user experience is easier when the design emulates the original device. Instead of learning a new way to flip a page on an iPad, the user relies on their intuition and experience with the physical object. In a dynamic digital world that is constantly changing (both with constant updates and between competing operating systems) intuitively understanding how to navigate through an application is refreshing.

It is argued that skeuomorphism in application design can be harmful because it limits innovation, and that some of the historic cues or mimicry aren’t even obvious to this generation (such as a digital imitation of a rolodex to store contacts). Other arguments against skeuomorphism in application design are that
skeuomorphic interface elements can be more difficult to operate and take up more screen space than standard interface elements, and that skeuomorphic elements are not consistent with OS interface design standards.

My take? Until there is a more uniform user experience across competing operating systems, there is a real value in skeuomorphism (although I am all in favor of refreshing a few of the designs. Digital leather and casino felt mimesis don’t really have a place anywhere as far as I’m concerned). Rather than making the user decide between a double tap or a finger pinch, (touch-navigation introduced by smart phones) subtle skeuomorphic design allows the user to intuitively navigate through an application.

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