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Thesis: Mimesis to Skeuomorph?


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Skeuomorphs in UI resembles the nature of representing realism in art forms. This idea has been analyzed by some of the greatest thinkers. Philosophers such as Plato, Socrates and Aristotle started this train of thought with their thoughts on mimesis. Wikipedia defines this term as “a critical and philosophical term that carries a wide range of meanings, which include imitation, representation, mimicry, imitatio, receptivity, nonsensuous similarity, the act of resembling, the act of expression, and the presentation of the self.” Aristotle felt that an audience could only empathize with a performance or piece of art through their own shared experience. But this experience provided a boundary without a beginning or end, which framed a reality that wasn’t real. And as this mimesis becomes “more real” then it also becomes “more fraudulent”(Davis, 1999).

So does this theory carry into skeuomorphs? Is it because of this familiarity that users empathize with the UI that looks like something they’ve experienced and interacted with before? It is this connection that provides users a way of comprehending an interface, but to empathize with it? Maybe it is this sense of shared experience with the physical object that provides more meaning to the user through the skeuomorph. But why must this be essential in UI design? I believe these devices are new platforms for representing these ideas and concept in a new form. And I think users can still experience these shared realities through possible other metaphors that connect them back to the physical object. But what are these metaphors and are they substantial enough that the user can still connect to its usability?

Another important component of UI design is the concept of archetypes. Who and what are they and how does this apply to the UI I plan to design? Rahul Sen provides this explanation:

The word archetype has its roots in architectural theory. It also deals with cognition at its most basic level. In a very generic way—points, lines and planes are archetypes in graphic design. Columns, walls, floors, roofs are archetypes in architecture.

He then continues to discuss archetypes in the Mobile UX realm and the criteria for these are:

1. These are archetypes on the foundations of which a part or whole mobile user experience can be conceived.
2. Most exist out there on mobile devices, while others seem destined to enter this space soon.
3. They are mostly screen-based interactions (for now).

Of the archetypes he proposes the best one that would fit my UI would be the “application centric”(Sen, Archetypes and Their Use in Mobile UX). This is where the user emphasizes there need to use the apps as tools on their device. And their focus is driven within this area as the device becomes more then what it is. But is this it? I would say not right now as I’m just beginning to delve into this. I’m sure there’s more to my UI’s archetype then just being app centric.


Davis, Michael. 1999. The Poetry of Philosophy: On Aristotle’s Poetics. South Bend, Indiana: St Augustine’s P.

“Mimesis.” Wikipedia. 11 Feb 2012. Web. 13 Feb 2012.

Sen, Rahul. “Archetypes and Their Use in Mobile UX.” Johnny Holland. 17 May 2010. Web. 13 Feb. 2012.

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