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Why Skeuomorphism Is Like A Classic Car

And if we all love classic cars . . . we must . . . love . . . skeuomorphism?!?

In what I assure you is the most gorgeously shot, poetically narrated video you will watch all day, designer Neven Mrgan waxes about how skeuomorphism–the same trend that got Apple skinning its Game Center service in the fake green felt of a poker table–is also the same foundational idea that makes our favorite cars from the ’50s and ’60s so iconic.

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Watch the clip, and we’ll talk about it.

Done? Okay.

Now, I don’t want to get too academic about this, but Mrgan’s definition of skeuomorphism is maybe a bit broad. He refers to skeuomorphism more as unnecessary ornament than imitation–not the virtual chrome built from pixels by a piece of software, but as the literal slabs of chrome, cut and polished on old cars to make them glimmer under street lights. The chrome on those cars is real, though. It’s not imitation in form or function. And technically, skeuomorphism is imitation. It’s the virtual knobs in a digital music equalizer, and fake metal rivets pressed into millennium-old pottery. It’s a faux material or object pretending to be a real one.

Having said that, his point is still well taken. The trend toward minimalist designs championed in the modern era by Apple–bauhaus-influenced objects, interfaces, and typefaces that pair down filigree for clean function–has taken over the world. And we’re left without the quirkier stuff, the tailfins of the world that are unabashed form over function.

I think all of us agree, the state of design is getting better–especially in Silicon Valley. The engineers are no longer in charge of our experiences. Even Google, the most notorious engineer-run company of the modern era, got on board with design!

But every tick has its tock. And don’t be surprised if these spartan designs find themselves blindsided by consumers craving some superfluous chrome.

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This clip is an excerpt from the upcoming film, Appdocumentary.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day.

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