Thursday, December 21, 2006

Skeumorph (Skeuomorph)

Nearly every funeral hearse that you see has a landau roof. In fact some of the ugliest cars also have landau roofs. It's that leathery looking back part of the roof that makes the car look like it's a convertible without actually being a convertible. It is a design element that is left over from horse drawn carriages. Those ancient buggies would often have ribbed covers that could be pulled up or down depending on the weather. Auto marketers needed to sell to people who might have been uneasy with the horseless carriage so they cleverly conspired to keep some design elements from the old carriage, like the landau roof, so the old guy could feel at ease in his high-tech contraption.

The landau roof is an example of a skeumorph - a design feature left over from the past with all of the visual markers intact but with the functionally mostly or completely missing. One example would be the instances of Greek or Roman pillars one finds in front of those giant houses in the suburbs that are built by people who prove over and over again that money simply cannot buy taste. Denim jeans have fake rivets reflecting construction methods before the development of modern textile manufacturing processes.

With the hyper-acceleration of the rate of change we don't have to go very far back to see an example of a skeumorph. The Microsoft Zune was designed with a prominent circle on the lower half of the face of the device. It looks like a scroll-wheel but it isn't. It is actually a constellation of buttons laid out in a circle with the only possible purpose being to make it look just like an Apple iPod.

Let me know if you come across other examples.


amy said...

sometimes i see notebooks that aren't spiral-bound but have an image of a metal spiral printed in ink on the cover.

you may already know this but the word skeu(o)morph is from Greek skeuos (vessel, implement) + morph (form).

i had never heard of this word before so i searched the British National Corpus (a collection of spoken and written english, around 100 million words total). i found 0 occurrences of skeuomorph and 1 of skeumorph: "The skeumorph , in which, for example, a stone blade copies the style of a metal object, is a classic find in archaeological excavations of early bronze age sites." This example is from a social science textbook.

JakeJakob said...

I think many new digital processes are retaining old analogue/physical skeumorphs. My friend Bob the Graphic designer tells me that Photoshop Software is full of them. When capturing an image one hears a camera shutter opening and closing, and there are icons representing physical photo processes that no longer are used etc.

This guy at UCLA spells it "skeuomorph".