Monday, 23 July 2012

Hunting wild skeuomorphs

A skeuomorph sounds like a baddy on the set of Alien vs Predator, but in reality a skeuomorph is an object or feature that copies the design of, or is made to look like something else. And it's a topic of much soul searching among Apple fans at the moment.
Apple's skeuomorphic podcast app

There are some aspects of skeuomorphism few would question. Functional skeuomorphism is why spreadsheets look like sheets of lined paper accountants used to use, why a word processor is a bit like typing on a piece of paper, or why a button in a computer interface looks like - well - a button.

However the aspect that is causing some concern is a tendency to go beyond function to appearance for appearance sake. This can be a good thing - some kinds of decorative skeuomorphism work well with a computer. So, for instance, brushed aluminium goes well with an iMac. But the problem is with decorative appearance based on non-tech stuff like leather bindings on the address book and calendar, and wooden bookshelves. This can look just naff.

This isn't a new problem. I had a US made tape player and games console in the 1970s both of which had plastic fake wood finish - it looked terrible, and I could never understand why they did it, but I assume it appealed to the US consumer.

I think if Apple is sensible they will listen to the growing groundswell against this retro skeuomorphism and at the very least give the option of switching it off. After all, I even saw an article the other day that suggested that Microsoft now has better taste than Apple - surely a call to arms.

I think it's very sensible for an address book to have some address book like layout options, or business-card like displays, but please drop the phoney leather and wood surrounds, Apple.

At the top of this piece is an illustration of another example of this concept. Apple's relatively new podcast app for the iPhone has a design based on a reel-to-reel tape player. This one I have mixed feelings about. At least it is tech, if old tech - so it's not quite so painful. In fact I find it quite sweet. But I don't think anyone can defend faux leather and wood. Get a grip, guys!

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