At first glance, it seems natural: when designing notepad software, why not design it to look like a notepad? A voice recorder app should look like a microphone, right? Skeuomorphism—which we've, er, skewered before—has influenced so much of software design. And yet I think many of us will attest that it's good to see that the trend, like iOS 7's "flat" icons (though I'm not a total fan), is to keep the digital digital.
But to be generous, I do think the popularity of skeuomorphism reflects less an unwillingness to accept digital experiences as digital experiences, but more a desire to retain some of the joys of physical objects. There is something nice about scribbling into a paper notebook and to see human handwriting, but there's also something nice about searchable archives and having all our notes tucked away in our pockets and available at a moment's notice.Which is why it was exciting to learn about the Evernote Market, which is aiming for a more seamless blend of our digital and physical workflows. The one that's gotten the most attention is their collaboration with Moleskine to produce paper notebook experiences that can quickly be digitized. After writing out your thoughts and sketches, you can tag your images (yes, with real, physical tags), and then snap a photo with the Evernote app. Your images should then be sorted quickly by stickers and placed into your general digital workflow.
But there are objects that caught my eye. The ScanSnap, for instance, is the kind of scanner I've always wanted. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a colleague standing next to an awkward flatbed scanner, juggling their laptop in their hand and trying to get a proper scan, one page at a time. The ScanSnap takes the ease of the automatic readers on top of Xerox machines and part of fax machines and applies it the scanner. In theory, the software can then sort out the difference between receipts, photos and business cards, and drop them all into Evernote.
All of this, in my mind, is a welcome shift. Instead of trying to force our analog objects into our digital experiences, let's continue to celebrate what makes analog strong but find bridges like these ones to integrate them more seamlessly with what makes digital experiences strong. It's part of the brilliance behind Expensify, which digitizes your receipts, and Zipcar, which simplifies the act of renting a car for short periods of time.
An Xiao Mina is an American designer strategist and researcher who recently worked on the Gwangju Design Biennale's Un-Named Design exhibition. She focuses on the role of social media and communications technologies in building communities and empowering individuals. Find her on Twitter here.