What is a Skeuomorph?

I came across this article today and it reminded me that sometimes innovation hides in the places we least suspect.

A Skeuomorph is a design characteristic that exists only because it was necessary in the original product.

The classic example is the QWERTY keyboard. Original typewriters were mechanical. Pressing a key caused an actual mechanical arm to swing up and make its mark on the paper. The layout of the keyboard was designed to keep the most commonly used letters spaced apart. This prevented the arms from tangling on each other.

Today, we still use the QWERTY layout even though we no longer use mechanical keyboards. This is simply because the hurdle of change is greater than the benefit of moving to another layout.

Other Skeuomorphs are all around us. Here are a few more examples;

  • The turn signal in your car has an intermittent clicking sound. Originally, this was just a mechanical relay switching on and off. Today, its simply feedback that lets us know its working. If it didn't click, we would think it was broken.
  • The camera on your phone makes a shutter sound as you snap a pic, although there is no real shutter.
  • Folders on your computer. Consider this; In the real world, over 95% of files are forgotten and never reviewed again once put in a cabinet.

However, since we live in a world that is digital, if we shift our focus from what we expect to what we need, we unlock the potential to delight consumers.