Skeumorph, flat, what's that?
When it comes to our ever-expanding digital universe, there is a wide spectrum of design styles. On either end of that spectrum, I see two completely different approaches to the user interface.
On one side, we have the digital copy of our physical world. This world uses all kinds of buttons and knobs, textures of wood, paper or brushed metal. Invoking them makes our digital experience more familiar, more comfortable.
On the other side, we have what we used to think "the future" should look like. Clean-cut interfaces floating on top of almost invisible devices. Here, there is hardly anything you would have seen in our physical world.
The first world requires little imagination and feels more like a continuity of our physical lives. The latter world invites us to a pristine and sterile daydream of space and time traveling.
As the Internet continues to expand organically and exponentially and viewports multiply by the hundreds, users must pick out the information they need, buried beneath this huge variety of styles and forms. Our industry constantly engages in conversations around which side of the spectrum should prevail in the end, and which side delivers the “authentic” digital experience.
I have only come to realize how invisible the interface is when I see my mother and my daughters using the same apps that I spend so much time analyzing. I don't see them distinguishing between wooden knobs or flat-colored tiles. What I do see is their eagerness to find what they're looking for, and their frustration when they fail to do so.
The user interface is the tool in which we humans interact with machines for a specific purpose. The nature of this purpose dictates the expectation of our interaction.
And to put it simply: If we don't get what we want, we're certainly not coming back.
While the debate between worlds will continue, the most important thing is to always be thoughtful of the spectrum of users, who will always need something from the work we do.