Newsstand Apple iOS app

Skeuomorphic business

If you work anywhere near websites or apps you’d have to have heard about the skeuomorphism backlash in the past year or so. Basically: you know all of the detailed, lickable, analog-looking interfaces you see on Apple mobile devices (and then the Mac)? Turns out they’re not always the best design for a virtual interface just because they look like objects we’ve used in real life.

That makes sense. But then Craig Mod also writes about a kind of skeumorphism that needlessly drags the past into the present and limits possibilities of the future: business models.

Business skeuomorphism happens when we take business decisions explicitly tied to one medium, and bring them to another medium — no questions asked. Business skeuomorphism is rampant in the publishing industry. The simplest example is with magazines.

Just look at the covers in Newsstand:

Newsstand Apple iOS app

Not a single cover is readable. This may seem like design skeuomorphism, but it’s not. No designer looked at those covers in Newsstand and said: “Perfect! Ship it!” It’s driven by business decisions and legacy-facing infrastructure.

Subcompact Publishing

I haven’t heard of skeuomorphism being used to describe that mentality, but it appears at no better time, when both the design and authenticity of an idea must work for it to truly succeed. Don’t go skeuo unless there’s a really good reason to.

Yes, the brain is organized by analogy. Analogy is the key to understanding. But, no, the analogy doesn’t have to hit us over the head. The more obvious the analogy, the less effort the creator has put into telling us his story.

[…] Yes, it’s far easier to get understanding or buy in quickly (from investors, in-laws and users) when you take the shortcut of making your digital thing look and work just like the trusted and proven non-digital thing. But over and over again, we see that the winner doesn’t look at all like the old thing. eBay doesn’t look like Sotheby’s. Amazon doesn’t look like a bookstore. The funding for AirBnB doesn’t look like what it took to get Marriott off the ground…

The only reason to venture into the land of the new is to benefit from the leap that comes when you get it right. So leap. (Well, it’s not actually a leap, that’s an analogy.)

Skeuomorphs = failure

It’s also quite amusing and concerning at the same to see how the design and new media publishing juggernaut that is Apple offends on both counts. For all of the company’s cutting-edge achievements, they still have stifling areas.


Today I learned that the three-bar icon is also called the hamburger button. Other aliases: hotdog, junk drawer, side panel.

Hamburger button

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  1. Pingback: Skeuomorphic business | startup news

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