A key factor influencing the effectiveness of a user interface is the usability resulting from its design, and the overall experience generated while using it, through any kind of device. The two main design trends that prevail in the field of user interface design is skeuomorphism and flat design. Skeuomorphism was used in UI design long before flat design and it is built upon the notion of metaphors and affordances. Flat design is the main design trend used in most UIs today and, unlike skeuomorphic design, it is considered as a way to explore the digital medium without trying to reproduce the appearance of the physical world. This paper investigates how users perceive the two design approaches at the level of icon design (in terms of icon recognizability, recall and effectiveness) based on series of experiments and on data collected via a Tobii eye tracker. Moreover, the paper poses the question whether users perceive an overall flat design as more aesthetically attractive or more usable than a skeuomorphic equivalent. All tested hypotheses regarding potential effect of design approach on icon recognizability, task completion time, or number of errors were rejected but users perceived flat design as more usable. The last issue considered was how users respond to functionally equivalent flat and skeuomorphic variations of websites when given specific tasks to execute. Most tested hypotheses that website design affects task completion durations, user expected and experienced difficulty, or SUS (System Usability Scale) and meCUE questionnaires scores were rejected but there was a correlation between skeuomorphic design and increased experienced difficulty, as well as design type and SUS scores but not in both websites examined.
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