Posts Tagged ‘ reverse metaphor ’

Reverse metaphor: Dropbox



I saw this in a building the other day and thought to myself: Dropbox?! Oh, I know what this is, it works just like the online service Dropbox.

Then, of course, I realized that it’s the other way round.


But there are so many metaphors we use on the screen that have become outdated, because we do not use their physical analogues anymore – floppy disks? paper calendars? tabbed folders?

The metaphors are becoming divorced from the very objects that used to help us understand how they were supposed to help us understand how the computer features work.

They are becoming stand-alone signifiers. We know what “tabs” are even if we’ve never worked with tabbed folders before (imagine explaining to your children where this comes from!).

So, what are we to do? I see 2 options:

  1. Keep the metaphors and use them with their newly acquired meaning. They are not metaphors anymore, they don’t stand for something else. They stand for themselves.
  2. Move away from the metaphors that make reference to physical objects and embrace the digital world for what it is, and create its own language and signifiers. I think this is one of the main pushes behind flat design – it’s a move against one of the most fundamental metaphor, the button.

I agree with this philosophy. I do not like things that pretend to be something they’re not.  They remind me of the cheap plastic bowls that are made to look like grandmother’s expensive china. In the physical world, we call them kitsch.

This doesn’t mean, however, that flat design is without pitfalls. By doing away with metaphor, which has an important role in learnability and communicating affordances, flat design invites usability problems. I guess the devil is in the implementation details – but look at Pinterest. It uses flat design and seems to get EVERYTHING right. So it can be done. 😉