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Skeuomorphs and Simulacra: The Allure of the Familiar and the Prison of the Past

A talk by David DeMello at edUI 2013

About the Talk

November 5, 2013 4:30 AM

Richmond, VA

Richmond, VA

What do radio buttons, bookmarks, manilla folders and telephone handsets all have in common? In this session, we will explore the concept of the skeuomorph in design and how using representations of familiar objects and materials as affordances in web interfaces can speed the user’s grasp of an application’s key concepts and features.

We’ll look at some fun and illustrative examples and ask if holding too tightly to these kinds of visual metaphors can hinder innovation and the development of new paradigms. Pushing beyond buttons and the icons that identify their purpose, we’ll talk about the phenomenon where stakeholders visualize their websites through the lens of the physical spaces and administrative procedures they inhabit, as they pressure us to design websites that are literal simulations of the way-finding and transactional details of their physical world.

A popular and common example of this is a website whose information architecture and navigation mirror a university’s organizational structure and floor plan while ignoring user context and principles of task completion. We’ll talk about how to spot this kind of thinking, its intellectual and emotional causes, and list some strategies for breaking through these patterns.

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