Skeumorphism is a phrase primarily used to described the way designers mimic the look of natural objects in their design. Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan argues that it’s not just a design aesthetic, but also a way in which we design perceived affordances, a term coined by Don Norman.
So skeuomorphism isn’t a trend or a binary. It’s not Forstall against Ive, or shadows versus flatness.
It’s more like a spectrum, or a color palette, that designers have at their disposal. At one end, we have gross misuse: Fake wood, fake leather, fake shadows. At the other, we have thoughtful use of perceived affordances: A digital clock face that looks a lot like a normal watch, because it’s easier to read. Great design assumes users are smart enough to do without the fakery—but it also knows how to use existing cultural references to its advantage. (source)
Campbell-Dollaghan also says for human-machine interaction to take place, we must continue to explore perceived affordances as a useful design tool
It’s the language that human designers have written to let humans talk to machines. That’s not something we should hate. If anything, its return marks the settling of new technological frontiers, unexplored territories that we need a little help to navigate.
Steve Jobs is known for his love for skeumorophism. It has been described by one former Apple designer who worked closely with jobs as “visual masturbation.” Article.