Skeuomorphs: Relics from the Olde Days

A skeuomorph is a new design that still retains a function and/or appearance of the old, physical object that it replaces. In the old object, the function and/or appearance was essential, but in the new design, it is just a relic – according to the Wikipedia entry. (However, it may be argued that design that seems to have no “useful” function does indeed – it has the useful function of transitioning the user from the analog object to the digital object.) For example, window shutters on new homes that you can’t actually use are physical skeuomorphs.

Skeuomorphs abound in the digital world. One example of a digital skeuomorph is the scrolling or flipping that an ebook reader employs – which is of course a relic of paper books, but which serves to make the ebook easier to use for those of us who are accustomed to paper books. Wired* reports that Flipboard gets rid of this skeuomorph and uses, instead, a center-pivot approach that they assert reduces eye fatigue. Another example of digital skeuomorphs are icons used in many types of software that represent out-dated or physical objects such as the floppy disk “save” icon, or the trash can icon.

Applying the concept of the skeuomorph to map design, what relics of print maps do digital maps still retain? What completely new design features are present in digital maps that we couldn’t do with print maps? Let us know. There’s got to be a lot of them. My contribution to the discussion:

Some people – ahem – complain about the overuse of pdf files on websites. For example, organizations often publish pdf maps instead of creating interactive maps. Whereas the map key could be dynamic, it is static. Whereas the user could have zoomed in and out easily, we have, instead, a static resolution and non-existant scale-dependent rendering. Pdfs, then, can be a type of skeuomorph. However, while the posting of pdf maps online has many flaws, it does have the benefit of being easy to understand for those not familiar with digital maps.

*Clive Thompson: Retro design is crippling innovation

  1. #1 by @briantimoney on February 21, 2012 - 12:01 pm

    @PetersonGIS Eager to use ‘skeuomorph’ in casual conversation. ‘Eponymous’ was a favorite, but REM ruined that

  2. #2 by @geospatialnews on February 21, 2012 - 12:29 pm

    Via @petersonGIS What are some relics from paper maps that have persisted on digital webmaps? Let us know.

Comments are closed.