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Unwriting your skeumorphic language

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, FacebookRdio 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.

  1. Pam Dineva says:

    Still waiting for the floppy disk legacy to end: spotted in Office 2013

  2. Nina Mehta says:

    Ahaha! Good find Pam. That one is for sure outdated!

  3. What? There was a special groove for your thumb on the filing cabinet drawer handle?!? Being left handed, I never knew! Always opened the drawer with my right hand so my left hand could do all that filing.

    I am always curious what terms should be left by the wayside (floppy disk, Zip drive are perfect examples) and what ones because of the value of their evolved function survive (cc in email, points and em dashes in typography).

    Publish or post? I pause on that one too. Am I posting a comment or publishing it? For comments, the former feels more natural. But the actual post itself? Maybe we publish posts?

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