LLMs, skeuomorphism, and redundant humans

Image from https://www.britannica.com/topic/e-cigarette

Skeuomorphism is a design strategy where elements of a now redundant technology are included in the new technology to make it more socially acceptable. It smooths the transition to a new technology and is usually faded out at we become better acquainted and accepting of the new tech.

Early e-cigarettes where shaped like real cigarettes. Now vapes have evolved to take on their ‘form follows function’ shape. Notoriously Apple designed many early iPhone apps to have textured and interface elements similar to their physical counter parts. The note app had a paper feel etc. This emphasising the “touch” in their world-changing touch screen, and now – thankfully – the design style has moved on to various forms of more authentic flat design.

LLMs are designed to be anthropomorphised. This is a design choice by their creators. It’s a design chosen to easy the introduction of a radical new technology and make it more socially acceptable. It’s skeuomorphism. LLMs are designed to mimic the redundant technology they are replacing – people.

[I’m not going to get into the ethics of this. It’s too complicated and it’s nearly Christmas. There’s a lot to unpack, obvs.]

We’re in an early phase of the introduction of AI/LLMs and they haven’t yet taken their final shape. There’s a lot of evolving to too. A lot will change. And as designers we need to look beyond the anthropomorphised LLM systems of today.