S is for skeuomorphism

Skeuomorphism increases your understanding of the product.

skeuFriend Dan wrote to me about the word skeuomorphism, which was not in my vocabulary. But I didn’t see the email right away since it ended up in my spam folder, because “It’s written in a different language than your messages typically use.”

So what IS it? The Technopedia explains:

Skeuomorphism refers to a design principle in which design cues are taken from the physical world. This term is most frequently applied to user interfaces (UIs), where much of the design has traditionally aimed to recall the real world – such as the use of folder and files images for computer filing systems, or a letter symbol for email – probably to make computers feel more familiar to users.

Yeah, sure. I hadn’t thought about it, but that was a really ingenious idea.

However, this approach is increasingly being criticized for its lack of ingenuity and its failure to pioneer designs that truly harness a computer’s superior capabilities, rather than forcing it to merely mimic the behavior of a physical object.

Wait, what?

Skeuomorphism has increasingly come under fire, largely because many of the nostalgic elements it attempts to portray – such as calendars, day planners, address books, etc. – are almost entirely foreign to younger generations of users. In addition, critics of skeuomorphism point to this reliance of physical objects in design as an impediment to making more useful designs.

In fact, skeuomorphism in computers is already starting to die.

But, but, but, without those cues, I’d NEVER figure out any devices. It’s hard enough for me, as it is. I agree with Matt Webb, operator of BERG, “a design company that makes electronic devices incorporating human faces and emotions”:

“People that criticise skeuomorphism say it’s pointless, but I say it isn’t. It increases your understanding of the product. Technology is getting so complicated that we’re going to have to find ways for people to understand what it can do without having to spell it out.”

Or as friend Dan put it, ” It’s not so much fake as a bridge between two things or systems.”

The term long predates computers. From The Economist:

The term skeuomorph was originally coined in 1889 to refer to an ornamental design derived from the structure of an earlier form of a particular object… Examples would be car seats made of plastic, but textured to imitate leather; plastic spoons moulded with patterns to provide an echo of engraved silver; or imitation wood-grain printed on furniture or flooring.


ABC Wednesday – Round 16