Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Skeuomorphs - why innovation is also a throwback

Joshua Brustein writes a nice piece on how innovation usually doffs an old hat, maintaining superfluous marks of its evolution (skeuomorphs - from the Greek words for tool and form) to ease people's comfort with the transition to the new.
Digital cameras produce a reassuringly retro but artificial shutter snap when you push the button to take a photograph; cellphones have keyboards with layouts originally meant to keep typewriters from jamming; and blue jeans have pockets that are a throwback to a time when watches dangled from chains...Designers in all fields are regularly confronted with versions of this choice: whether to incorporate cues to keep people grounded in what has come before, or scrap convention completely. In transportation, for instance, the power of steam engines was initially described in relation to that of horses, a practice that has continued to the present day. Automobile designers have incorporated visual cues suggesting carriages; for example, adding nonfunctional spokes on wheels...This tension is palpable in many efforts to create new digital media experiences. The Daily, Rupert Murdoch’s publication designed specifically for tablet computers, incorporates video and interactivity into what is essentially a newspaper. At the same time, it is designed to show up on a reader’s digital doorstep once a day, a concept that seems as old-fashioned as pocket watches when compared with Web sites that are updated continually...Apple, probably the best symbol of the march into a new digital era, also encourages designers to incorporate analog references in its devices. On the iPad, users enter appointments into a calendar that is encased in an on-screen leather ledger, scrawl notes on what looks like a legal pad and advance through digital books by swiping their fingers across the screen, prompting an animation that actually looks like a page being turned.

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