What Are Skeuomorphs, And How Can They Help My Web Design?
Ah…. ‘Skeuomorphs’. Got to love one of those right? I mean, what would we be without a skeuomorph or two?
Okay, I’ll admit it, until recently I had no idea what a skeuomorph was, and certainly didn’t know how it related to web design or business in general. However since learning them it’s something that I believe has taught me a lot about the web that I didn’t realize and that’s helped me to look at many websites in a whole new way. Allow me to share the discovery with you…
For those of you with vocabularies as limited as mine (or ‘vocabuli’? I jest…), a skeuomorph is essentially a design for a new product that is based on something that we are familiar with. In other words then, if you are designing a website then you will probably look at the more common elements of web design and implement them in your own site so that people know what to expect when they visit and so that they intuitively know how to navigate them. Think about it, when you come to a website you normally instinctively know how to get around even when you’ve never been there before and this is usually because the layout is so similar to every other website out there.
However that’s not really a skeuomorph proper. Rather a skeuomorph would be the original design of the ‘website’ massive itself – in other words the Protoform site that we now base all websites on. Where does that come from? Well largely it comes from the humble magazine – and elements like the title along the top and the contents-like list of links down the side are things that we’re familiar with having read magazines.
In other words then, when the first person designed the first website, they looked at the magazine and used that as a guide – possibly even unconsciously.
Another example of a skeuomorph could be your average calendar software. Look at any piece of calendar software and you’ll notice that it looks like a real life physical calendar where you see a month on each page. This is a skeuomorph yet again, simply because it makes no sense – a calendar really should show you only things that are yet to happen because showing us what we’ve already done this month is of no use to us. In other words, here a fondness for traditional physical objects has overruled what’s practical or logical.
What’s it to You?
So that’s a skeuomorph – using a physical object to design a new (often digital) product so that there’s familiarity. Sometimes this is highly useful and it can guide us in designing new features and products while helping to ease customers and clients into the new concept and hold their hand through the usage.
However the reason I’m flagging this up is that sometimes – such as in the example of the digital calendar – it’s not useful and we’d be far better off designing more freely and getting outside of old restrictive mindsets.
Next time you come to design a website, an app, or a piece of software, don’t just think about the way you expect it to look, and don’t just go with the look of every other product out there. Instead, think about how you can make use of the format you’re creating for, and how you can break the mould to do something new and better that will stand out and win you more business. If it ain’t broke… break it. That’s how breakthroughs happen…
Creative Commons featured image courtesy of Andy Welsher
Kevin Smith is a London-based web entrepreneur who works for an SEO agency named www.seo-positive.co.uk.
Post Tags: design, discovery, elements, Skeuomorph, web design, websites