Skeuomorphism?
Written by Lucy Black   
Sunday, 22 September 2013

There are some words that seem to come out of nowhere and move from "never heard of" to "over used" in an instant. So it was, and is, with "skeuomorphism". What does it mean? We have a video that sends up the whole idea... so what does it mean? 

"Bluff your way with big words" is a technique we all use, but "skeuomorphism" doesn't give much away. Can you even work out the language that it derives from? It really does sound like a made up word in quiz show where you have to convince everyone else that it's a real word and you know exactly what it means.  

See if any of these attempts convince: 

 

As it happens one of the definitions is almost right and hence, I suppose. less funny than the rest. 

Skeuomorphism just happens to be a very important word at the moment and even if you don't know what it means you will know the effect that its rejection is having.

A skeuomorphism is sometimes likened to a vestigial trait (look that one up if you need to) but applying to machines rather than biological systems. A vestigial trait is something like an appendix - an organ that once served a purpose but now is no longer needed and just hangs about. So a skeuomorphism is something like when a digital camera makes a click noise even though it doesn't have a shutter to make that noise any more. It once was a necessary part of a camera, but now it is just a throwaway, throwback. 

The big difference, however, between skeuomorphisms and vestigial traits is that they really do have a function. OK, the digital camera doesn't have to make the funny shutter noise, but making some noise is a good idea to provide feedback. In the same way icons that look like buttons say "press me" but icons that are flat and don't look like buttons need you to know the additional convention that you have to "click here". The software world is entirely an invention and without some skeuomorphism it would be impenetrable to the beginner. 

Now having said all of this, I have to admit that skeuomorphism is getting a bad press. It was once the number one design philosophy espoused by Steve Jobs, and many Apple products were heavy with luxurious skeuomorphism But now it is rejected and we have flat icons that provide a colorful sweetshop effect. 

Why is it rejected? 

I suspect because you can't do a redesign job without rejecting what is already accepted. The new always pushes out the established. 

The real question is how long before someone rediscovers skeuomorphism and uses it to push out the old flat low-fi designs and brings in the fully 3D skeuomorphic UI complete with stereo clicks and animation. 


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