Monday, October 06, 2008



A design feature copied from a similar artifact in another material, even when not functionally necessary. For example, the click sound of a shutter in an analog camera that is now reproduced in a digital camera by playing a sound clip.

A skeuomorph can be employed for various purposes. Since people are used to the click sound of a camera as feedback that the picture has been taken, it is now artificially-produced in digital cameras. Other examples are copper cladding on a zinc penny (for familiarity) and wood finish on a plastic product (for a more expensive look).

From Greek skeuos (vessel, implement) + -morph (form)

A.Word.A.Day with Anu Garg

An ornament or design on an object copied from a form of the object when made from another material or by other techniques, as an imitation metal rivet mark found on handles of prehistoric pottery.

A derivative object which retains ornamental design cues to structure that was necessary in the original. Skeuomorphs may be deliberately employed to make the new look comfortably old and familiar, such as copper cladding on zinc pennies or computer printed postage with circular town name and cancellation lines. The word derives from Greek, skeuos for 'vessel' or 'tool' and morphe for 'shape'.


Skeumorphs are Material Metaphors

Efforts to make the new look comfortably old and familiar, or simply habits too deeply engrained to wash away.

Archaeologists, who make an academic practice of studying material culture change, while not the first to notice that yesterday’s functional features become today’s stylistic decorations, were at least the first to name the phenomenon:

Skeuomorphs are material metaphors. They are informational attributes of artifacts which help us find a path through unfamiliar territory. They help us map the new onto an existing cognitive structure, and in so doing, give us a starting point from which we may evolve additional alternative solutions. They provide us with "a path" instead of "no path" at all.

Skeuomorphs and Cultural Algorithms by Nicholas Gessler

For some reason, I find Skeuomorph a fascinating word. It's fun trying to think of other examples other than those above.
  • A horse on a Mustang car
  • A carriage on the side of an RV
  • A pocket watch pocket in jeans
  • Molded plastic with fake looking screw heads
  • Digital knobs, buttons, switches and sliders that duplicate the ones that existed on the original physical device being emulated
  • Stone or metal decorative features that simulate wooden or timber structures like studs or crossed corners
  • QWERTY keyboard. Originally laid out to prevent physical keys from getting stuck when popular letters were together in the original typing machines.
  • Plastic sandals that look like fabric or leather
  • Spoke patterns on hubcaps and rims to copy the old carriage wheels
  • Molded trigger on plastic guns
  • Molded furniture that looks like wicker or woven cane
  • Gesture that people use to get someone to to roll down a car window. Miming a circular hand crank
  • Canopy bed simulating a private cave
  • The concept of pages in word processing software and web pages on the internet.
  • Bookmarks is as archaic as web pages.
  • Wood grain on cheaply made products
  • Lights shaped like candles
  • Shopping cart icons on ecommerce web sites
  • Reel-to-reel tape icon used to represent a tape such as a voice mail message
  • Old fashioned key or lock to represent security
  • Concrete outdoor furniture that looks like wood or metal
  • Manila folder icons on computer
  • Video gambling machines that simulate one-arm slot machines
  • Floppy disk icon button which stands for "Save" in computer applications
  • Taj Mahal architecture that simulates traditional Mongolian tents (gers or yurts)
  • Calling the strings of instruments like guitar, harp, violin, cello or bass gut even though they may be made of steel or nylon

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