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Digital Dinosaurs in a Jurassic Zeitgeist

Moore’s Law states that computer power will double every two years. This trend has been accurate ever since 1975.

The average consumer is more than used to their computer becoming outdated almost as soon as you get it home. New hardware technologies, new graphics engines, new screens and ever-increasing sizes of storage have made some people actually trepidatious of buying cutting edge technology in the very real expectation that the edge will be dulled as the box comes off.

While we are approaching the point where Moore’s Law will no longer hold true due to the harsh laws of physics this does not impede our outgrowth of many of the other technologies that once made our lives easier.

A classic example would be portable storage devices. For instance, I am so old that I remember booting up my father’s Microbee with a 5″ floppy disk filled to the brim with Space Invaders goodness.

For every storage device that catches on, there is one that doesn’t. My father, ever the early adopter had rushed out and bought us a Betamax tape player. Cutting edge at the time the Betamax had higher fidelity of the recording. This didn’t stop it from being destroyed by the up and coming VHS player and leaving my family with only 3 available movies for my entire childhood (thankfully one of these was Return of the Jedi).

The floppy disk was almost superseded by the short-lived “Zip drive”. Now we can all understand what this is because Zipping is now the name for a windows process of compressing a file.

These physical dinosaurs increasingly live on in our digital zeitgeist in the form of buttons and names. The most evident of these is the Microsoft ‘save’ button which, if you can’t remember what it looks like, is in the shape of a 3″ Floppy Disk.

Teenagers in High School today have absolutely no familiarity with the physical entity. The symbol is instead becoming the default picture for ‘saving’ in the minds of two generations of computer users for whom knowledge of the Floppy Disk itself is entirely esoteric.

This being the case there is a war being raged in the design community over whether these symbols help or hinder user experiences. The two arguments can be boiled down to this: It is irrational to have a symbol for something when the symbol no longer has universal recognition; The symbol has grown to have universal recognition through the very fact that it IS the save button and therefore it’s fine.

A symbol taking on a meaning other than the literal is referred to as skeuomorphism. The floppy disk icon is a perfect example however you can also look to real-life objects like LEDs in the shape of candles to see that these design concepts are not mere internet fakery; the candle being a now universally accepted light source long after its use as a light source was outdated.

Design is a wonderful and innovative industry. Unfortunately, innovation can be its own bane as, if you move away from accepted norms you can occasionally impair functionality. This is especially crucial in Web (and digital) Design as the entire User Experience is dictated by the intelligent design and information presentation.

As Experience Digital seeks to innovate we are always testing the boundaries of what is functional and what is not. It is all well and good to change the save button to a more contemporary reference but not at the expense of functionality. Thankfully our designers are experts at creating a fresh experience for the user, something at once wholly new and familiar. This allows us to innovate and, more importantly, create without forgetting why we create.

Who knows what the next skeuomorphic digital design will be? Fingers crossed it is something that Experience Digital’s talented design team comes up with. Memes are well and good but we’ll take a slice of the Floppy Disks immortality any day.

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