Skip to main content

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!


Popular posts from this blog

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Mirror, mirror

A little while ago I had the pleasure of giving a talk at the Royal Institution in London - arguably the greatest location for science communication in the UK. At one point in the talk, I put this photograph on the screen, which for some reason caused some amusement in the audience. But the photo was illustrating a serious point: the odd nature of mirror reflections. I remember back at school being puzzled by a challenge from one of our teachers - why does a mirror swap left and right, but not top and bottom? Clearly there's nothing special about the mirror itself in that direction - if there were, rotating the mirror would change the image. The most immediately obvious 'special' thing about the horizontal direction is that the observer has two eyes oriented in that direction - but it's not as if things change if you close one eye. In reality, the distinction is much more interesting - we fool ourselves into thinking that the image behind the mirror is what's on ou