Speaking of Skeuomorphism

With all of the changes taking place over at Apple, people are wondering how it will affect the design of their future products – both the external look and the software interface. As a result, skeuomorphism is very much on the minds of systems and UX designers.

Skeuomorphism gets a pretty bad rap among many tech-savy computer folks. It’s kitschy, it’s gimmicky, it’s corny. Some feel that it dumbs down the essential nature of digital technology. By over-emphasizing analog equivalents (equivalencies that are, arguably, false in their foundation) skeuomorphism runs the risk of obscuring many of the things digital technology can do that analog can’t – the aspects of the digital tool for which there is no analog equivalent.

Mashable has a delightfully snarky gallery of some of Apple’s more infamous uses of it:

Say Farewell: Apple’s Skeumorphism Hall of Shame

Many of these criticisms are largely correct. So why am I still a fan of skeuomorphism?
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Conveying Authority

When I was in school to get my MLIS, I had an assignment in my Reference class to observe reference librarians in real-world situations. I sat in at the reference desk at my local branch of the Chicago Public Library over the course of several days. I noticed something odd about the way the reference librarians dressed at this branch: sometimes they dressed in more formal professional attire – long-sleeved, button-up shirts and ties for the men; blouses and skirts, or dresses for the women – but at other times they dressed very casually; sometimes the same librarian would be dressed professionally one day, and the next day casually. I saw no rhyme or reason to this.
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User Centered Design: The New Card Catalog for the Digital Information Age

The Kansas City Public Library just posted a new position: User Centered Design Specialist

I love that we’re doing this! I know that it’s become something of a cliché to talk about UX, but the simple fact of the matter is that user experience and interaction design are only going to become more important as we proceed in our Digital Information Age.

The landscape of information access is undergoing radical evolution. We have a wider variety of information accessing technology than ever before: desktop computers, laptops, tablets, smart phones, gaming systems – with different operating systems and coding platforms for each. More importantly, these technologies have created a near-infinite variety in points of access – wherever we can carry our devices (and still have signal) we can access information at will.
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Functionality vs. Style

In my previous job working for a non-profit (I’ve talked about it before) we used a few different CMS over the years to manage our online fundraising website. One in particular was absolutely awful and caused us major customer-service headaches! Horrible user-interface, bad data management, non-existent reporting capabilities… It was a nightmare.

The following year, we switched to a different CMS and our lives got much easier. 90% of the functionality of this new system was leaps-and-bounds better than the previous year’s. However, one of my coworkers hated the new site. She thought it was ugly, she thought it was primitive. She would see cool flash animations and interactive content on other websites and she wanted to do things like that on ours. But we couldn’t do those things on our site, the new CMS wasn’t configured to handle the type of coding that generates that kind of decorative bling, and so to her it meant that our site didn’t work well enough. She was hung up on looks and blind to essential functionality. She decided that the whole site was deficient just because we couldn’t pretty it up to her standards.
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