20.07.12 by Jeff


Noisy Typer software app
Fake woodgrain, Instagram filters, file folders on your computer, these things are called skeuomorphs. Things with ornamental elements to make them seem old and familiar. Why do we like them so much? I was just gonna post about this new app called Noisy Typer (which essentially turns your laptop into a typewriter), but then I thought it might be more interesting to have a mini discussion about skeuomorphism.

Do you guys think these skeuomorphs will always exist? In another 100 years will our cell phones still mimic the sound of a camera shutter when we take a photo?

Love to hear your thoughts below!

Jeff Hamada is the Founder and Editor of Booooooom. He lives and works in Vancouver.

  • also love to know what your favourite skeuomorphs are

  • Michael Schroeder

    I suggest linear recording-software. Tape-like! You spool and overwrite. Bring back the cut-up-technique!

    How about a ree2reel-homepage where anybody could record something on it and overwrite pervious recordings?

  • Carinsauerwein

    I have never actually heard of this before and it really interests
    me. I think there will be skeuomorphs 100 years from now. 1000 years from now –
    I’m not so sure they will be the ones we love. Certain things have stayed the same relatively in the past century,
    example clothing- men’s suits. New ways have been created but the general
    person still is wearing the same suit at a person in 1920 did. There is
    something very interesting with being comfortable with what we know works. Trusting
    something new is a challenge. But with technology rapidly progressing maybe it’s
    becoming less of a challenge. I hope traditions and values will always stay
    true in new technology. I personally will always love the sound a camera makes
    when a picture is taken.


    • yea its interesting to look at what specific point in time the skeuomorph references – like would there be new skeuomorphs that reference the original skeuomorph (if that makes any sense) like an updated one, instead of a flame shaped bulb in a chandelier referencing the actual candle chandeliers – if there would eventually be laser chandeliers that reference the light bulb chandeliers we have now OR if they would still reference the candles in the original.

      i am re-reading this comment thinking no one will have any idea what i’m talking about

      • Jonas

         h, that’s an interesting thought. I think that it all comes down to nostalgia and the need for an element of authenticity that current technology doesn’t provide. Whatever triggers those feelings, though, probably varies from person to person, and will continue to do so. For instance, some people in 2112 will prefer things that reference 2090’s technology, while some will prefer 2010’s technology and feel about it the way we feel about steampunk.

      • I say with a straight face that blurry early-2000s cameraphone photography will be in vogue sooner or later.

      • haha it happened two years ago with those Harinezumi cameras!


    • I think fashion is an unfair comparison because trends in that can totally go against all other areas. That said, the heavier-handed skeuomorphs will completely change WITH fashion (and yes, you can see subtle changes in suit style). 

    • I like the FEEL of a real SLR doing its shutter thing, but I can’t stand the audio effects on digicams and phones.

  • You could argue most artists, particularly if they render things out, work in a skeuomorphic manner. Most artists don’t have a 3d lighting and rendering engine in their heads so they work with a visual shorthand that gets the idea across. I know I do. Suggestion over reproduction. Like iCal!

    • ya i never thought about it that way – your work is definitely like that

  • jamie johansen

    Trends aside, I think there is something people today like about the sound of a real shutter taking a picture, a real guitar over a digital version of it, using film versus digital. Some people just crave going against the grain and trying to stay as analogue as possible in certain fields. Even the look of something alone is something people crave which is why, I think, you can find original game boy cases or cassette shaped bags or whatever of these things for our modern devices. We grew up with those things or we grew up with the affection of our parents and grandparents having these things and using them, tying memories to those objects.

    Will the sound of the iPhone 4S’ key tapping be one of those things? I’m not sure if the kids of the 21st century will really have affection or ties to type writers or film cameras and the like because it’s “old” and being phased out. OF course, as mentioned before there are the few who are into the vintage stuff and will eat up shooting with film or listening to records just as there are today.

    “Cassette Tape” was recently removed from the dictionary even though a number of unknown/maybe a little known bands are recording on them. Some kids have no idea what a walkman is or what it was like to always carry a quarter with you to use the payphone just in case.

    I mean, I’m 26, so I’m not my dad’s age, I was raised on CD’s not vinyl, but there are some things like that I feel kids, and even myself, are really missing out on these days.

    • yea – i had no idea about the casette tape thing, that’s interesting even as a completely different topic altogether – at what point a technology is really dead

      i guess a lot of this discussion also has to do with the idea that everything has been created and that everything created now is a reference or remake of those things. i wonder what the last known “new” creation was, i mean one where you could argue it wasn’t a direct reference to something that came before it.

      • another thing too, about the cd/vinyl thing and kids missing out – i often think about the day when i have a kid, how soon i will put them on the computer or stick an ipod in their hands. i think its ridiculous to force them to do everything the way i did when i was a kid but i think its important to play with blocks and develop motor skills, and learn to draw with a crayon, even if by that point technology has advanced to where we can go about our daily lives without moving our bodies at all.

      • Yesterday I introduced two kids to my turntable and what a trackgroove is about (listening to MOUSE ON MARS). That was a tough lesson about soundwaves with those 8/10y’s :)

  • ABCG

    I think its a natural evolution to simulate real world objects in digital interfaces more accurately. It’s always been around, starting with the first UIs which utilized buttons, windows, mice and file folders, its all there its just keeps moving forward helping us connect to virtual objects. Some are silly true, but as computers replace more and more physical objects in our world it only makes sense to keep some connectedness to their analogs. 
    For creative types, computers software often had the end goal of simplifying our tasks to “free” us creatively. But as we all know restrictions are like fertilizer to a creative mind. by having inherit restrictions our minds tend to explore new paths or solve things in new ways. It only makes sense for the computer to emulate these real-world processes to better help our minds stay sharp. Developers are already emulating these “retro-process” with virtual instruments, digital cameras that act like film, even virtual sculpting and painting has become MORE analogous to real world techniques.Computers interfaces in the past tended to rob us of the large and varied textures and sounds that humans can live in. industrial design itself has seen a fallout as more products merge into black slabs. the more computing power we have to simulate our rich and varied world the more we will use it to replicate our real world.

  • Brian Smith

    Excellent podcast called 99% Invisible on why our electronic world doesn’t work without these…


  • Nostalgia, comfort, familiarity. 

    Like so many things in our lives, elements once necessary pass their time, yet we keep them around anyways.

    Us humans are creatures of habit, and I suppose it shows in our designs. 

    • the interesting thing for me is that it is now a nostalgia for a time that most never experienced! today’s generation is so far removed from the things that our current technologies reference. i would venture a guess that 99% of people using instagram filters have never shot a polaroid.

  • This discussion popped up in my head as I was thinking about Bad Art and what it was that made it bad. Contemporary art is tricky. Sometimes I feel like, what makes one heap of plywood different from another? And it occurred to me, when art is bad, it’s as if the art is not art so much as a suggestion or illusion (or a skeuomorph, if you will) of some previous, successful piece of art. It’s saying, ‘Hey, I’m not that great but remember that other heap of plywood at the Guggenheim? Yea, that was pretty awesome.’

  • “Forward Through the Rearview Mirror”
    – McLuhan

  • Theofanis

    I will agree with Steve
    Kim at some points…About what is bad or good talking about
    aesthetics (food, fashion, architecture and art) it’s a philosophical
    matter which eternally and hopefully will be always under doubt,
    though. A referential system is under construction and the biggest
    part of it (internet?) by the time is pragmatic. As the time passes
    and we refine, record and exhaust our past in new products, we
    realize that we ‘re obliged to consume our present in a way that
    “now” is the best time to be…and that’s what history

  • Paxton Porter

    To go back to Jeff’s comment, in my mind, the last major evolution in technology was the telegraph. Just think of how slow and tedious the transfer of information was. I believe the succeeding generations are still waiting for such a drastic innovation. I’d like to hear what others think.

  • Chao FENG

    Or it is simply a “remediation”? When a new medium emerges, it always remediates a previous one for a lot of purposes, but let’s check out what Bolter and Grusin said first.

  • Designaroni

    Fat lab is where it’s at!

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