Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A word for that

Thanks to AWAD, I now know there's a word for the back-borrowing of design features. Their entry puts it best:



noun: 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.

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

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).
As a word nerd, I particularly dig the etymology, but the W'pedia entry gives a more thorough description and several other examples.

I enjoy the tension between utility and familiarity. Sometimes the skeuomorph is superfluous, merely decorative -- a designerly harkening back to the design that informed it. Other times, there's a usability component -- the copper coat on a zinc penny, while not technically necessary, would seem to prevent a lot of errors. And I know some users who find it helpful to hear their digital camera "click".

And I am SO going to incorporate a skeuomorphs-hunt activity in my New Media Studies classes! If you think of any, please comment.

1 comment:

Anne Kulinski said...

Hey Shaun, I've been contemplating this the last few days and I'm thinking that the telephone ring on our cell phones falls into this category. The current trend is to have music playing to indicate that someone is calling you and previously we've had the mono and poly "ring tones", but there is always the option for the traditional bell ring which is almost considered retro right now.