Video of An Interview With Marc Hassenzahl

Marc Hassenzahl. Future Directions of User Experience and Experience Design. YouTube. 2010.

Skeuomorphism is an otherwise fanciful word for imitation. In the digital world, however, I can see how the desire to phase it out is being heavily considered. Look at Windows 8. “Visually, it is the simplest version of the operating system ever. For years, software has followed the same formula: The user interface mimics a real-life desktop, with documents filed in folders and pictographic icons that act as visual metaphors of a software program’s function… it has a noble provenance: the Bauhaus school, the German modernist movement of the 1920s and 1930s” (Carr).

I’m going to toot my own horn. In 2011, I wrote a paper on this very topic: how Bauhaus ideology and design has infiltrated everything that we own, or at least in the physical sense. However, I never considered how it might be related to the pros and cons of skeuomorphism. From a historical point of view, are we debating the Arts & Crafts movement versus the Bauhaus School? If form follows function and Apple, Microsoft’s softer nemesis, has upheld successfully to the Bauhaus ideology (look at the iPhone), then Apple’s proliferation of skeumorphs haven’t exactly resulted in a sales decline. Innovation leads the way.

If I focus on the iPhone, I prefer most of the sounds depicting their origin existing within the iOS. However, I’ve never understood the swoosh or jet engine sound effects associated with sending a text or an email – completely unnecessary. Although, this sound effect does function as a verifiable indicator that the action of sending has completed. Therefore, it’s not entirely irrelevant, as much as it is not necessary. I often mute my laptop when emptying the trash because the sound annoys me.

Visually, skeumorphism tends to be more noticeable and occasionally more annoying to me. Examples include: plastic parts that appear metallic, faux leather, wood, stone, vinyl or cheap rubber and foam animals (namely the chicken). I think that it might be because these imitations tend to cheapen the experience. At the same time, I find old, musty offices adorned with wood paneling from the ’60s rather interesting. There’s a sense of nostalgia from a time that I’ll never get to experience. However, is the Apple bookshelf aesthetic really necessary for displaying eBooks? Is this skeumorph visually outdated?

Apple Bookshelf

Apple. Bookshelf. iPhone and iPad. 2013.


In relation to skeumorphism and technology, Felluga (2006) summarizes Neuromanticism. “Think anachronistically about Romanticism’s relationship to the innovations of our temporal present. Since technological prostheses for memory like the codex and the Internet affect our very perception of space and time, there is a way that such technologies not only set the stage for the future but also work backwards in time to recast the past, giving us new insight into past technologies” (Felluga).

What about people that are digital natives and don’t respond to computer interaction positively? In other words, they are techno-phobic. Perhaps that this personality type heavily prefers a tactile/kinesthetic experience. I can see how skeuomorphism is favorable since it lends toward a humanized relationship compared to an otherwise flat, uninteresting piece of technology. In essence, it strips the personality from the experience. If functionality is having an earth-or-human-like relationship with a piece of technology, that is the reason that skeuomorphism exists.

We imitate everything in the natural world to appear as if it’s real (plastic surgery). Also consider the social responsibility of our carbon footprint. No wonder skeuomorphism annoys people. That might be a stretch (plastic surgery). When comparing the differences between skeuomorph visual design and sound design, in the digital and the physical environment, I think skeuomorphic sounds are more effective over visual imitations.

Works Cited:

Carr, Austin. Windows 8: The Boldest, Biggest Redesign In Microsoft’s History. Fast Company. Oct. 2012. Web. Accessed: 3 Mar 2013.

Felluga, Dino Franco. Addressed to the NINES: The Victorian Archive and the Disappearance of the Book. Victorian Studies, Vol. 48. 2006. pp. 305-319.

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