You know that thing that looks like the old version of it? The “radio” app on your smartphone that looks like an old timer radio, with dial and all? Or the eBook reader that turns pages and has a spine and you can see the edges of all the pages? The calculator app that looks like your HP41C? (HP12, if you are more “modern”).
Well, there is a word for it. Skeumorphic.
Skeumorphic design can help ease us into a new technology, or a new way of doing things by means of a metaphor. Something familiar is given to us in order to accept something new.
That’s great, but after some time two things happen. The first one is that they start to get a life of their own. When the first Mac or Windows 1.0 came out, the analogy of the “Desktop” and the Filing Cabinet were key to sell us on the idea of using this little beige box instead of all the stuff we had on our desks. But after a while, the “Desktop” gained a life of its own, it shed all the resemblance with a physical desktop, and we rarely think of the analogy when use it on a daily basis. The “Desktop” is now just this space that we use for quick access or as a temporary place to put things.
The second thing that happens, is that the skeumorphic design becomes limiting for some of the new possibilities that innovation brings. What happens when the feature set no longer fits in the physical analogy? What would have happened if YouTube would have just mimicked a television set with channels, etc. There is no way to fit in all the user-generated content in that design. How about something like music (audio) players? The traditional artist/album/song is getting somewhat limiting when it comes to artist collaborations across different bands, long-form podcasts (BTW, podcast is a “genre”, but then there has “topics”), live stream, audiobooks, all combined.
We are going to see this play over once again, very strongly, in the Metaverse (check out Decentraland). The first applications are going to be a reflection of non-meta, until we feel ok for something new to take its place.
At some point we got to let go and move on, create our own, so the only thing we can be sure of, is that there will be new things to learn.