What is skeuomorphism?
Back in my sophomore year of college I created a competitive creative story-telling card game called Cardbored Box (before "Cards Against Humanity", "Superfight" and the like. I was original, I swear!). I later went on to digitize the game so it could be played anytime. However, I was never too happy with the design but couldn't figure out what was holding it back.
Then earlier this year, I found a Nelsen-Norman Group article that mentioned "skeuomorphic design". They said:
In digital design, a skeuomorphic design is an object that has unnecessary, ornamental design features that mimic a real-world precedent. Skeuomorphic designs are intended to help users understand how to use a new interface by allowing them to apply some prior knowledge about that precedent.
Now I have a new perspective of what I did to design the digital game and how skeuomorphism negatively affected it (though not all skeuomorphic designs are bad).
How skeuomorphism affected my game
Knowing the rules isn't important, but you can read a summary below. For these purposes you mainly need to know that there are three Event Cards and three Item Cards on the table and every player holds three Wild Cards in their hand (Wild Cards pictured further down).
Cardbored Box Rules Summary
The game requires three or more players. Two players will compete at a time while the remaining player(s) serve as judges.
When I digitized this game, I replicated the "real-world precedent". I had multicolored cards with text and laid them out in the same positions. I thought this was the best possible design. After all, I played the physical game just like this no problem. But there were problems now.
This skeuomorphic design is more of a hindrance than a help. But it also doesn't serve its core purpose because modeling the interface strictly after a card game doesn't make a significant impact in helping users understand the interface or the game.
How I would do it again
I made a quick mockup for a revised version, just illustrating how I would change the layout of the main game board with the Event and Item Cards.
This redesign improves the clarity of the Events with proper labels and details, such as prefacing the Event with "Oh no!" to show a problem is being presented. There's room for improvement to clarify the Items, but I now have literal room and freedom to do so.
At the last minute I thought of characterizing the Event as a newspaper headline. It could work, but I'd want to balance it with how I would characterize the Items. In fact, finding how to re-theme the whole game will help put players in the right mindset. Skeuomorphic design to the rescue?