A big word in design circles these days is Skeuomorphism. Those who design interfaces are gnashing teeth and bemoaning the skeuomorphism in today’s interfaces, and newer interfaces are supposedly going to eschew it entirely. What is skeuomorphism? According to Wikipedia, it is when “a physical ornament or design on an object made to resemble another material or technique.” In other words, it is when an application used to delete files looks like a trashcan, an icon indicating saving files looks like a floppy disk, directories look like folders, email looks like envelopes, and (in general) thinks look like their archaic real world equivalents. Apple is supposedly going to a flat design and dropping skeuomorphic icons in the next version of iOS, and Windows has already started to do it in the flat design of Windows 8.
What got me thinking about skeuomorphism was a segment of this week’s Science Friday that we listened to on the drive home. This segment talked about helping seniors to tackle new technology. It talked about how seniors could be introduced to use the iPad and the iPhone, how to teach them to use computers, how they can be set in their habits… and how one can teach new technology by relating it to older things they know.
Yup. You can put 2 and 2 together as well as I can. The move away from skeuomorphism could be an attempt to get seniors — or at least less adaptable seniors — off the new technology. If you are dealing with a senior who can’t even figure out the power button, delete files, or do any simple tasks… now try imagine explaining it when the icon to do the task is something they don’t recognize.
So what are your thoughts? Is moving away from skeuomorphic design a good idea or a bad idea? What will be its impact on seniors?