Unwriting your skeumorphic language

June 20, 2013 Nina Mehta

Less than 10-years-ago I was actually publishing to print, creating carbon copies in my checkbooks and putting pieces of paper in manila file folders inside 5-foot-metal drawers with brushed silver handles that had a slight notch on the left for my thumb. Words like publish, carbon copy (cc) and file are all over our interfaces representing those things I used to do. They are used as language and as metaphors to help people navigate an interfaces.

Designers critiqued Apple for using metaphors from the physical world to communicate their designs. You know, paper calendars, yellow legal-notepads, leather-bound books, that kind of thing.

Bit by bit, product language will evolve in multiple ways. Some of these these antiquated words will take on new meaning and some will slowly get edited out. Can the word publish take on a new meaning? Probably. Will carbon copy or cc continue to make sense?Probably not. I’m sure companies like Wired magazine, Facebook, Rdio have thought about this regarding their company’s name.

But it’s you, product people, designers, developers, PMs, you are the ones who have the power to modernize digital language. It’s your responsibility ask “is this an antiquated way to talk about this thing” and to use your judgement to decide if an old word is taking on new meaning.

Want to learn more about how finding meaning in product design? Read the chapter by Dewey, Dilthy and Turner in Technology as Experience or the Designing for Multiple Interpretations ACM Paper by Sengers and Gaver. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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