So the other week, Anagram Manager was looking around for our chief tech officer (the Code Commander) to ask him a nerdy question. The question? Why the Save button still has a disk image even though there is no more floppy disk in the equation.
We talked about the idea of an item made to have characteristics that are old, expensive or obsolete...Turns out it's called a skeuomorph, which refers to the new object that has these features of the old. A tangible skeuomorph might be a metal cafeteria table with artificial wood finish, or a chandelier might have flame-shaped light bulbs. There is no functional use for the flame shape in a light bulb.
Skeuomorphism has also been applied to digital design – as a symbol that communicates something's function based on existing understanding. Fake knobs and sliders, fake textural backgrounds, etc.. mimic the real thing (This guy calls them digital metaphors).
The upside is that we recognize these objects in real life, so that we'd find it comforting or at least less abstract than some unrelated gesture. In Adobe InDesign, for print publishing, there are times when mousing over images in certain ways will give you focus semicircles like in the viewfinders of classic film cameras.
But instead of swiping your finger to turn the page, would it ever be OK to turn a dial? What if your clock showed time in the form of colored squares? What if instead of scroll bars, your browser showed you a less useful metaphor – such as a percentage, a scatterplot, or a game of hangman? It makes me wonder: First of all, what is the threshold of abstraction at which a metaphor does not communicate the creator's intent? Secondly, is the relevance or functionality of a metaphor socially constructed? Do we expect scroll bars simply because that's what's always been there, or are they really that logical? Thirdly, is abstractness relative? (Do different people feel differently about metaphors, influenced by our personal experiences with abstraction?)
Then again, skeuomorphs also take up space and provide functions that are sometimes unnecessary. Blogger and software developer James Higgs wrote in one of his posts, "I detest these new apps. Why? Simply put: it's because they are lies. They attempt to comfort us (to patronise us) by trying to show how they relate to physical objects in the real world when there is no need"... Here's more discussion about Apple software UI, written by the founder of MacStories.net.