Skeuomorphism — the designing of interfaces to mimic real-life counterparts — has become a bit of a dirty word in GUI design these days.
Apple, long a proponent of that style under the usually reliable judgment of Steve Jobs, largely gave up the ghost in 2013 with iOS7. Yet there are still projects and new concepts looking at ways to keep skeuomorphism alive, such as this one or even bringing 3D into the act like this one.
There is this dream that one day, we’ll be starring in our own versions of “Minority Report” or “Iron Man” — swinging our arms or manipulating virtual objects to perform incredibly complex tasks. However, the reality for most users is that attempts at this type of interaction will almost always require too much training.
Tom Cruise and Robert Downey, Jr. didn’t likely step up and start flailing their arms at their newly delivered computer systems expecting it to realize what they were attempting. In fact, what makes those movies and the interaction so cool — is that the users were expert. They were trained and very practiced at the interaction at hand. It’s kind of like watching your engineer friend whip through command line prompts or wrangle huge C files in vi. It’s very cool, incredibly productive — but not something the casual user can mimic.
And “casual user” is how you would have to describe most of us with respect to the apps and devices we interact with. I’ve used many apps that were ingeniously crafted with amazing shortcuts. Coming back to them in a week or two — they were inscrutable — and quickly were abandoned for more utilitarian options.
The future? Some form of skeuomorphism and natural gestural interaction is likely to happen. Similar to the way voice is evolving on mobile devices and in automobiles, it will require lots of system tolerance and an incredibly large number of forgiving ways to accomplish the same task. Moreover, gestures and skeuomorphism that become common to apps are potential secret weapons to accelerate adoption. So, even though we may not use our travel app everyday, if it recognizes the same types of inputs we use every day in email, calendar, text, etc., we’ll rapidly become expert users starring in our own sci fi futures.