Does Skeuomorphism still have its place in our tactile interfaces? | PDD

Does Skeuomorphism still have its place in our tactile interfaces?


on July 10 2013

Skeuomorphic interfaces (another fancy word to describe a digital interface that emulates the physical world), seem to have been sentenced to death. With Apple also making a move towards a flat-looking iOS7, we appear to be heading towards a simpler, cleaner visual language for digital interfaces.

Once again, Apple made a bold move last June when presenting to the world its new iOS. The graphic interface got a radical makeover, which is now making a lot of waves on and off the web. The new visuals severed ties with the digital emulation of textures, shadows and reflections, and instead became flat. But this is not an isolated case; other mobile platforms have long embraced a flat interface. With this, it seems that digital interfaces have now reached another stage and that skeuomorphism as we know it might come to an end.
As more and more of us become familiar with touchscreen devices, we increasingly expect to be able to swipe and tap on screens. Consequently, skeuomorphic icons, which were introduced mainly to teach us how to use touchscreens, are no longer needed as an educational cue.
But, are interfaces really severing ties with the physical world? Looking deeper into iOS7, it in fact appears that the new interface aims to become more like a real object in itself. By layering information, menus and screens, it behaves more like an object than ever before.

In Windows 8, the flat-looking tiles animate by flipping, behaviour that still simulates the real world. Many applications let us manipulate digital elements almost as if they were real objects: they push other elements, drop, turn around, and move according to physical laws.

Moving a tile on Windows 8 while other objects rearrange themselves spatially accordingly.
Above image credit: Microsoft. Featured image credit: Apple.

The desire to achieve a more ‘natural’ interaction with digital devices is not limited to touchscreens. Think of the Wii and Xbox Kinect that have changed the way we play video games by changing the role of the controller, which acts as the interface between the player and the game. When it comes to animations, designers and developers aim to recreate digitally, the physical laws.
Before anything, the role of an interface is to be ‘usable’ and aims to be the most natural interaction as possible. By giving digital elements a physical behaviour, we can create interfaces that behave in a way we are somewhat familiar with. In that regards, our digital interface may always keep a skeuomorphic dimension.
But, where else could digital interfaces lead us to? Over the years, there has been a great interest in haptic feedback technologies for touchscreens. When this technology is ready and mature for the mainstream market, it will be another step towards bringing digital and physical together by providing physical feedback to seemingly ‘flat’ interfaces. It could change the way we engage with digital touchscreens, and maybe change again the way we design graphic interfaces.