Thursday, July 28, 2011

Word of the day: skeuomorph

Skeuomorph is a word that I wish I had known a few months ago, when writing a post about the Moleskine app for iOS. Skeoumorph comes from the Greek σκεῦος [vessel, implement] and μορϕή [form]. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word in two ways:

An ornament or ornamental design on an artefact resulting from the nature of the material used or the method of working it.

An object or feature copying the design of a similar artefact in another material.
It’s the second definition that’s relevant: the Moleskine app attempts to emulate paper by offering the user the non-functional choice of a plain, ruled, or squared page. To my mind, that’s an analog-to-digital mistake.

I learned skeuomorph while browsing John Siracusa’s review of Mac OS X 10.7 Lion. The leather stitching and torn paper of Lion’s iCal and the sewn signatures of Lion’s Address Book are examples of skeuomorphic design. Siracusa calls them “egregious.” I’d say “ghastly.”

Wikipedia has a handy collection of examples of skeuomorphic design. Perhaps the most obvious examples: fake stitching, fake woodgrain, and the shutter click of a non-SLR digital camera.

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