I've lost and found this word several times in my life, and now I've gone and lost it again.

Basically, it describes mimicry of a previous version of the same technology. Often a feature of this kind will be included to increase discoverability of functions or provide recognizable feedback. Examples include:

  • The digitally recreated sound of a camera shutter that plays when taking a picture on some smartphones (or the iris effect on the screen that make it look like an aperture is closing and opening)

  • Using the gesture of swiping in from the side of a touchscreen to access the next page of a digital document

  • Good Q. Perhaps SO or another tech SE would be better placed to answer this.
    – Kris
    Jul 4, 2014 at 6:48
  • You need to clear a doubt of mine. Is what you need means more like "a homage" or something that implies "a copy with rather different style"?
    – vickyace
    Jul 4, 2014 at 6:56
  • @vickyace I do not believe that doubt is the word you are looking for here.
    – tchrist
    Jul 4, 2014 at 7:27

3 Answers 3


Such a design is called a skeuomorph:

  1. An object or feature which imitates the design of a similar artefact made from another material

1.1. Computing An element of a graphical user interface which mimics a physical object

Wikipedia provides a useful explanation:

A skeuomorph /ˈskjuːəmɔrf/ is a derivative object that retains ornamental design cues from structures that were necessary in the original.

In recent times, skeuomorphs have been employed in the design of many digital and electronic products in order to help them retain some familiarity with their 'analogue' predecessors, with the aim of enhancing usability.

It's a term that entered the common tech lexicon in the latter half of 2012 with the beginning of speculation that Apple would eschew its hitherto-then skeuomorphic design language in its iOS touchscreen operating system. Its prominence increased across 2013 as this speculation intensified and when Apple subsequently revealed its plans to ditch skeuomorphism in favour of a 'flat', layered design paradigm in June of that year. At this point the idea of skeuomorphism entered general consciousness to such a degree that the BBC ran an article on the topic.


I've heard the word metaphor used for cases like these. For instance, you swipe the screen because it uses a metaphor of a physical book.

  • +1 – interface metaphor is a very common term for this. Such as the desktop metaphor, or a file metaphor for a collection of bytes.
    – ipso
    Jul 4, 2014 at 7:34
  • +1 as metaphor is very much an appropriate term, although it is a hypernym for various more specific approaches (or 'design metaphors').
    – 568ml
    Jul 4, 2014 at 7:46

Also consider the words vestige (“A faint mark or visible sign left by something which is lost, or has perished, or is no longer present” or “a non-functional organ or body part that was once functional in an evolutionary ancestor”), vestigial (“Of or pertaining to a vestige or remnant; like a trace from the past”), and relic (“That which remains; that which is left after loss or decay; a remaining portion” or “Something old kept for sentimental reasons”).

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