Quite a word, really. It’s cropping up everywhere. What is it, though?

The philosophy that drives the majority of contemporary UIs is called skeuomorphism. Derived from the Greek words Skeuos, meaning vessel or tool, and morph, meaning shape, a skeuomorph is, according to the Oxford Dictionary, a “derivative object that retains ornamental design cues to a structure that was necessary in the original.”


We’re locked in a world of skeuomorphism. According to Co.Design from the same article:

In recent years, the aesthetic of UIs has followed a dominant ideology that attempts to replicate the physical world. The idea is that it will make the interface more intuitive, by replicating analog objects.

Examples of skeoumorphism are the pages turning in the iPad. Or the leather calendar in iCal. Or files and folders. Or the YouTube icon on the iPhone that’s an old TV.

I think we’re on the cusp of a complete reinvention of our UI metaphors. I’ve written about the need for UI to tell stories, not sentences and how we’re at a point in the experience economy & hardware state that precedes an upheaval in UI. In short, everything is about to change.

Some of these metaphors still work: music covers, book covers, paper address books. But others like leather calendars, saving files, carbon copy, the old TV icon are metaphors, skeuomorphisms that hold no meaning for the majority of tablet owners and smart phone users. The NYTimes wrote an article last week titled “Daddy, what are compact discs?” Exactly. These metaphors are so old, they’re meaningless, even detrimental to a user’s understanding of products because most users are simply too young to remember their analog predecessors.