Word of the week-Skeuomorphism
Ever wondered what the point of that tiny little handle on a maple syrup bottle is? No, me neither, but it serves as an example of ‘Skeuomorphism’, which is Futureheads ‘term of the week’ this week. A ‘skeuomorph’ is an object that retains design features that aren’t necessary to its function. Think of the SLR shutter click sound that is played back when photographing with a digital camera, or the paper filter on a cigarette that is printed to look like cork.
Skeuomophs are abundant in the world of digital design. For example, digital books feature ‘page curls’, allowing users to ‘turn’ the pages just as with a real book. Similarly, the ical calendar for Mac signifies the beginning of a new month with the previous month’s page ripping off and floating in to the abyss. Such features may not improve usability, but according to literary critic Katherine Hales they can help ‘smooth the transition between one conceptual constellation and another’. They essentially help the user to feel more comfortable and familiar with a product.
Many believe skeuomorphic design an unnecessary hindrance to innovation. Consider the case of ‘Soulver’, a calculator designed for Mac that specifically avoids skeuomorphs. Users are able to type in a language based command to find out exactly what they want (let’s say ‘£65 for dinner + 12.5% tip’), resulting in a direct answer. ‘Soulver’ is devoid of any of the physical attributes of a calculator, thus removing the need for complicated formulas.
We’d love to know your opinions on skeuomorphic design, and welcome any digital (or even non digital) examples of skeumorphs you may have. Do you think it restricts the way digital products are designed (and used)? Or do you see it as a necessary part of the digital design process that helps make new products less daunting?
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