Skeuoumorphic Models Limit Possibilities for Innovation

Skeuomorphism in design describes the rendering of digital items in terms of their real-life counterparts. For example, skeuomorphic design might render a notebook application such that it resembles a physical notebook.

These metaphors can limit our capacity for understanding the possibility of digital and non-organic tools and agents. They constrain our understanding of the nature of the digital creation based on physical limitations that may not apply to a digital setting.

An example might be understanding an online publication like a blog in terms of analog media like a newspaper or a magazine. Or, a digital file system that uses a filing cabinet as its guiding metaphor but then conditions us to think of each document belonging to one folder in a rigid, hierarchical system.

Lakoff and Johnson use the term "radial metaphors" to discuss how metaphors can be strategically applied to conceive of models to help explain complex situations; these can be empowering or limiting.



Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Lloyd, Alexis. “R2D2 as a Model for AI Collaboration.” Medium (blog), November 21, 2020.