Skeuomorphism Isn’t Dead

Skeuomorphic design may have fallen out of fashion, but it’s still a useful way to help users understand a product

Jeffrey Storey
Modus
Published in
7 min readOct 3, 2019

--

Photo Credit: Eugene Cheporov

LLet’s get one thing out of the way quickly: Skeuomorphism — aside from being a great 50-cent word — is the use of an object or feature that “retains nonfunctional ornamental design cues (attributes) from structures that were inherent to the original.” The digital product world is full of examples: a folder, shopping cart, phone, button, and so forth.

In the early days of the web, many digital products were designed by closely imitating their physical-world equivalents. This approach unnecessarily limited their digital potential; what could have been reimagined products were instead restricted to the largely arbitrary confines of their predigital structures. The possibilities of a “hierarchically structured digital storage container” are limitless; calling it a “folder” inherently orients our cognitive conception of file storage around preexisting physical models.

The design of the “Horseless Carriage” was constrained by the purely conceptual limitations of the old thing it had replaced.

In the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan described this tendency as the “horseless carriage syndrome.” When cars were first invented, this new…

--

--

Jeffrey Storey
Modus
Writer for

Jeffrey Storey is a Product professional interested in tech, business, UX, optimization, analytics, SEO, history, nature, birding, slack-key guitar and soccer.