Close this search box.

Skeuomorphism in Modern Design: Apple’s Overhaul Sheds Light on Fascinating Concept

What do iPhones, cigarettes, and the floppy disk icon we click on to save a file have in common? All of them contain examples of skeuomorphism – design elements that are not functional or necessary, but that mimic older designs. Throwbacks like the brown “cork” pattern surrounding a cigarette filter or the long-obsolete floppy disk used to represent a virtual act are deliberately utilized to create a sense of comfort with the old and familiar. Similarly, in creating the iPhone’s interface, Steve Jobs and company employed a host of ornamental features to give users a sense of vintage comfort with the tried and true. For better or for worse, that might be changing soon.

Apple’s new executive of software development, Jonathan Ive, has made abundantly clear that he is not impressed by such skeuomorphs as the wooden bookshelf image that houses e-books or the camera click emitted when users take a photograph. While Steve Jobs was a strong proponent of all manner of skeuomorphs, his successor aims to take a “fresh” approach to interface design. This potential overhaul has drawn both praise and criticism: while people within and without the company have extolled the aesthetic virtues of Apple’s faux-leather calendars and textured “linen” background, many others have claimed that these are inane anachronisms that do not belong in the context of advanced technology.

Apple is far from the only user of skeuomorphs. Derived from the Greek skeuos, meaning vessel or tool, and morphe, meaning shape, this phenomenon has been popular for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks, for example, incorporated numerous architectural elements reminiscent of wooden structures into their stone columns – not because it continued to be structurally necessary to do so, but because it was perceived to be aesthetically pleasing. This has been the case throughout history – from mass-market items made from cheap products overlain with a faux wood or metal veneer, to clothing pockets with no seeming capacity to hold items. Whether Apple will be able to successfully do away with the skeuomorphs that hearken back to bygone times and still continue to satisfy its customers remains to be seen.

Graphic © ALTA Language Services

Other Resources

November is Native American Heritage Month

Native American Heritage Month has officially been celebrated in the United States each November since 1990. This is recognized on the federal, state, and local levels with special programming and events to highlight and honor the traditions, culture, history, and...

Learn More

5 Fascinating Facts About the Hawaiian Language: A Look into its History and Significance

Hawaiian language, also known as ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, is one of the two official languages of Hawaii. While the language was banned in schools after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1896, there have been revitalization efforts since 1978. Today...

Learn More

What is Heritage Language?

Individuals who speak multiple languages or live in multilingual households may have a “heritage language.” This term describes the language the individual speaks or hears at home, but it is not the dominant language spoken in the community. In the...

Learn More

Contact Us

Get Started Today

Interested in our language services? Complete the form or call us during business hours (9 AM to 6:00 PM ET) at 800.895.8210.

Preparing for your test?

View our test prep materials or FAQ’s for common questions about taking a test.