Skeuomorphic designs resemble real world objects. Take for example the familiar email icon; a closed envelope for unread email and an open envelope for a read email. You’ve probably never thought ‘why use an envelope icon for an electronic message’ and the reason is because you most likely find it natural fit.
Email is a relatively new concept compared to letters, so when early designers sought to make the transition to email as smooth as possible the choice of an envelope seemed a natural choice. This pattern has been seen throughout user interfaces for the past 15 years; on your desktop you have a ‘waste paper basket’ for files you want to delete, when you want to extract part of a file you ‘cut it using scissors’ or you may attach a file to an email using a ‘paperclip’.
Technically there’s nothing wrong with skeuomorphic design, and in the early days it was a basic requirement to aid the adoption of the new technologies. However, today it’s just a barrier to design. The majority of people are familiar with basic technology, and whilst I don’t want to sound ignorant towards people yet to adopt it, I feel the problems they face could be easily solve with a well written and engaging instruction manual.
Despite being a real innovator in design, Apple has still shown a love for skeuomorphic design; the lined-yellow paper for notes, the leather bound calendar or the casino themed Game Center. However, in recent years a more minimalist approach to UI design has been taking off, something Google and Microsoft have already started to embrace rather well. With the upcoming release of iOS 7, Apple is now also heading towards the minimalist approach.