In computer-land, floppy disks save word documents in folders, and paper clips help attach those files in emails.
Collectively, these old-school designs are known as “skeuomorphs,” and they don’t just refer to icons.
Skeuomorphism is the principle of using past aesthetics in a new way: Apple’s Newsstand feature, home-row notches on the iPad keyboard, and even faux-wood panelling on cars.
If each app or computer function were represented by the thing that actually performs that action, most of the time we’d probably have to use an iPhone icon.
But since rectangles don’t quite get the point across, we’re left with these relics.
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Whenever you want to save a file in most word processing programs, the icon you press is a floppy, which was the go-to method for saving files in the 1980s.
Floppy disks aren't totally obsolete.
The US government still uses the square pieces of plastic. It takes time to migrate its huge catalogue of files, and sometimes the easiest way to address the problem is to do nothing.
It used to be that if you wanted to make edits to a hard-copy document, you had to actually cut changes with scissors and paste on the alteration. Clipboards helped organise those snippets.
Phones with actual handsets have been relegated to that slowly disappearing technology of landlines.
Imagine the alternative icon, though.
The icon for your Phone function is a smaller iPhone? You'd end up with an infinitely long set of iPhones nested in other iPhones.
A handset works just fine.
If you're cool enough to use Instagram, you're probably cool enough to know what a Polaroid camera is.
Home answering machines first used actual tapes to record voice messages. But even after they transitioned to digital forms of memory and then joined the landline's decline, the imagery remains.
An aside: When was the last time anything was recorded on a spool?
Do people use spools for anything other than storing sewing thread?
Another one of Apple's obsessions with going retro, the symbol for video traces back to the original design used in the early days of Hollywood: a bulky camera with both tape reels mounted on top.
Apple was savvy enough to take out the reels for its FaceTime icon.
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