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.
- Three models of human-machine collaboration from pop culture - Skeumorphic models of robots as butlers or servants limits our thinking about how machines might serve as collaborative partners for humans rather than delegates.
- Metaphors structure our interpretation of the world - The metaphors we use to understand thing structures our thoughts about them.
- Novel metaphors create novel ways of thinking - Applying new metaphors can expand our perspective on familiar problems or situations
- Our vision of the future is always constrained by our view of the past. - The lens of the past limits our ability to see future possibilities
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. https://alexis.medium.com/r2d2-as-a-model-for-ai-collaboration-9a2638bfbd09.