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Skeuomorphic UIs should give the user something that looks like a familiar object, presumably making it easier for them to understand what it should do and how it should be used. Even if the UI isn't really any different, it gives the user something they can relate too, making it seem less machine-like, and should hopefully grab their attention.

An example of this is Apple's own calendar on OS X:

OS X, Calendar App

This app has been designed to look and feel like a calendar. Well that's great, and I wonder if this is the best approach. However, I can't help but think of the other-side's comments to this.

They say that skeuomorphic designs are not usually consistent with the rest of the OS, making it seem out of place and odd. They suggest that this could confuse users instead of giving them what they have learned from using the OS. This is not at all an invalid statement:

Consistency?

The calendar app definitely sticks out, but isn't that the point? It attracts the user to it, maybe because it looks better, perhaps because it seems familiar. Either way it does accomplish that.

I personally have never been confused by a UI that uses skeuomorphisim before, and actually tend to like them, because I am a sucker for good looking ui elements. But that doesn't mean I am right. I myself am doubting this logic, maybe users do prefer consistent application UIs.

So again, for reference:

Side A: Skeuomorphisim grabs the user's attention and makes them feel comfortable with the piece of software.

Side B: Skeuomorphmisim is not consistent with the rest of the OS, which could cause users to be confused.

Question: Which is generally the better UI design from a UX perspective?

Note: I am not talking about Web designs in this case. Though perhaps they may apply, skeuomorphmisim on websites definitely makes more sense than app design.

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Possible related questions: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/33197/… ux.stackexchange.com/questions/35576/… –  rk. Apr 18 '13 at 13:47
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By related I did not mean that they are the same, just, they might have an answer you're looking for. Both the questions do go into the origin and use case of the skeumorphic design. –  rk. Apr 18 '13 at 13:57
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Related to the issue of matching OS consistency is What are the drawbacks of designing a Windows application to look like a Mac application? –  Ben Brocka Apr 18 '13 at 14:21
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"The calendar app definitely sticks out, but isn't that the point? It attracts the user to it, maybe because it looks better, perhaps because it seems familiar. Either way it does accomplish that." The problem is that the calendar app shouldn't stick out, certainly not that much, while it's in the background. Once you start designing every app to be most prominent you start an arms race all the way up to our computers looking like Times Square; every application becomes a billboard. –  Kit Grose Apr 21 '13 at 8:27
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There's no correct answer to this. "Which is better" is entirely dependent on a plethora of other factors that are going to very wildly from project to project. –  DA01 Apr 24 '13 at 4:45
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2 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

You need skeuomorphs for a new technology. It trumps OS consistency in that respect. But, above and beyond that, OS consistency is more important.

Found an article which resonated with my views. Ignore the MS vs Apple thing. http://www.cultofmac.com/180084/where-microsoft-has-more-taste-than-apple/

Traditionally, skeuomorphic design has been used to make cheap things look like their more expensive alternatives.

This is in relation to the origin of the term/trend of mimicking highly desirable artifacts using low quality products.

Skeuomorphic Design Is Cheesy: Skeuomorphic design is mostly about trickery and fakery to make unsophisticated people feel like the cheap thing they’re getting is the better thing they really want.

For example, the Find My Friends App is designed to look like a roughly sewn leather “thing.” There is no analog or traditional equivalent to an app that uses GPS to locate other people. Apple is just willy nilly deciding that this functionality should be encased in leather.

The article goes on to argue why the calendar, podcast app(old one), and other skeuomorphic designs are just odd.

My belief is, you should use the skeuomorphic design in moderation. And, rather than using that as your skin, try offering it as a 'theme'. Once, the user gets used to the 'new technology' he can switch to a more native theme and be more productive than being restricted.

On topic of the OS consistency, it is nearly impossible to have every app be consistent with your OS. You have guidelines and restrictions in the market space but you need to cut some slack. Skeuomorphic apps totally break the OS consistency (so far they seem to do it) in the sense, if you look at Mac OS X, it is a nice sleek and modern look. Thin menu bar, a trendy launchpad, nice fonts and then you have the fugly skeuomorph apps like calendar. Do you think regular users need help in using a calendar? No! It's just plain silly to do it just to make the first time user feel "Awww!", "Oh!", "Cute" whatever, but after a while it is boring and restricts the amount of functionality provided by a 'normal' design.

You need skeuomorphs during the onboarding process in a radically new technology. Like some of the touch interactions apple introduced with iphone. But, for regular purposes, it borders on cheesy to annoying. For one, it generally ends up taking more screen space than a regular design. It definitely breaks the OS consistency and it locks down the user with that interface even when the user is familiar with the technology.

Edit:

Just came across a design principle which is applicable in this case. Be consistent, not uniform.

Wherever possible we should use the same language and the same design patterns — this helps people get familiar with our services. But, when this isn’t possible, we should make sure our underlying approach is consistent. So our users will have a reasonable chance of guessing what they’re supposed to do.

The same approach should be taken when thinking of implementing skeuomorphs. Even if you are not being 'consistent', your underlying design thinking should be uniform.

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Very sound points. I mostly agree. I really like the idea of "themeing" an app, so that the odd look can be OS-consistent items. And on OS X I do think that apps like the Calendar looks slightly odd. However, on mobile apps can skeuomorphs be used better? Since the screen is small, and your app essentially "replaces" everything else, does it make more sense to make something familiar and light? Take the notes app for example, even though it isn't really consistent, it does make more sense than and easier to use than to make it plain old aluminum. Anyway, great answer! –  Josiah Apr 18 '13 at 14:45
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This has been beautifully answered in this article. http://uxmovement.com/mobile/why-functionality-is-important-in-skeuomorphic-design/

In one sentence - skeuomorphism can only enhance the user experience when an interface actually functions like a real-world object - such as in the calendar example you gave. In my opinion, it doesn't have that much to do with the OS but with the fact of it giving value to the user. If this is not the case, skeuomorphism is not only odd and irrelevant but plain ridiculous.

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