Scheuomorphs are relics that continue to be used, often to make our lives easier, even if new technologies have thrown them into the past.
Have you heard – or pronounced – the word scheumorfo?
You may not be familiar with it, but if you look around it will not be difficult to know what it is about: scheuomorphs are everywhere.
But what are they?
The word comes from the Greek: skeuos, which means tool or container; and morphé (shape). However, the term has been used for a long time, mainly by historians and archaeologists.
It refers to the "presence in an object of formal characteristics that lack motivation in relation to its functions or conditions of its production and that can only be explained as atavisms in relation to a diversified model in its use or in technical conditions", as explained Middle Age expert Serafín Moralejo Álvarez in his book Eloquent Forms.
Still not very clear? And the picture above, rather than clarifying, confuses you?
Well, don't worry: With a few examples, you'll be able to identify schemamorphs without difficulty.
Let's start with this photo
In the jeans in the picture, and maybe yours too, the schemamorphs are the rivets, those weird, familiar pieces of metal.
Because they are an aesthetic legacy of a time when jeans were too thick to be joined only with lines. Although later they were no longer needed, metal rivets were still used … and that's a scummorph.
They are, as Moralejo wrote, "the most spectacular testimony of the deep roots of the figurative instinct of human consciousness and subconsciousness."
Scheuomorphs are produced, he explains, "because forms, linked for generations to certain uses, end up looking innate."
Think of a car and its wheels.
Past wagon and bicycle wheels needed rims (those lines within the circle), but car wheels didn't. However, many vehicles still use the rims only for their appearance.
It is as if the wheels without the rims were not wheels.
On the other hand, car engines were originally placed in front of cars because the horses pulled the wagons and carriages from the front.
The "horsepower", the unit of measurement of power, became known to us long after we freed the horses from this task.
And there's one more example in luxury cars: hood ornaments, which used to be simple radiator caps.
A classic example of scheumorphism is found in the stone decorations of ancient Greek temples.
Doric triglyphs, those designs with three vertical bands separated by grooves, were derived from earlier wooden temples and created exclusively for ornamental purposes.
The triglyphs in the stone are in the place that used to be the beam ends with which the roofs of the houses were made. Although the wood was no longer used, its mark remained as a decoration on the stone.
"The shape of an object is more than its shape," said Serafín Moralejo Álvarez, art historian.
Now you will see them everywhere
Although scheuomorphs have been with us since prehistoric times, they have become common in the 20th century.
They sneak through every crevice … even in places of religious worship.
Have you noticed that in many churches the candles on the altars are no longer wax, but electric? The custom of making offerings by lighting candles remains, although these "candles" continue only by their symbolic form.
Thus, there are many other examples in the physical world, but it is in the digital world that we see most scheuomorphs today.
On the screen
With the proliferation of computers in the 1980s, a new world of scheuomorphs was opened as a means of making operating systems more "user-friendly", creating an intuitive link with the past.
One of his great promoters was Steve Jobs, Apple's founder and pioneer of the microcomputer revolution in the 1970s and 1980s. He firmly believed that the devices should be so simple to use that a novice could master them on instinct alone.
Therefore, if you want to delete a file, you need to drag it into a representation of a real garbage, and if you want to store it, place it in folders similar to normal, physical folders.
And speaking of eliminating, in many cases, the designers of schemamorphs use precisely the objects that innovation is sending into oblivion.
How many envelopes were left unused with the arrival of the email, whose icon is an envelope?
What fashion took and intuition rescued
Meanwhile, in the field of graphical interface design, another model emerged – the Flat- as an alternative to the schematic scheme. Flat design uses fewer elements that give a feeling of three-dimensionality.
This trend became fashionable and succeeded in dethroning scheumorphism as a paradigm in interface design.
However, it may be more appropriate, in this case, to use the other name designers use for scheumorphism – realistic design – because it is not always easy to say that Flat design has left scheumorphism behind.
Take, for example, the camera icons, video, and messages in this image that have a realistic left and right, flat interface … don't you think both versions are compatible with scheumorphism?
Anyway, when smartphone use became widespread, schemaphorism returned strongly.
A new schemaphism lexicon has been used to make our move to this new technology much easier.
Ironically, the classic phone icon now represents the functionality of the call. Or think about the shopping cart or baskets we find when we shop online.
And the future?
Although creative design can lead us into more abstract territory, there seems to be a comforting familiarity with scheumorphism.
In the end, it is this strange desire for how things used to be.
Now yes … how many layouts do you find in this illustration?
Have you watched our new videos on YouTube? Subscribe to our channel!