Recently I was watching someone recharge their electric car and it struck me: It looks exactly like someone refueling a gasoline car.
They pulled their car up to the charging station, grabbed the big nozzle on the charging cable, lifted the cap on their car’s recharge port, and shoved the nozzle in.
In one sense, it all looks quite natural and ordinary. I mean, that’s the way we’ve been refueling regular gasoline cars for years, right? You pull your car up, lift the cap, shove the nozzle in. No wonder we designed electric vehicles the same way. People are used to it.
But viewed another way, those electric-car “hoses” look like a super weird design problem.
Specifically, they’re a skeuomorph.
A skeuomorph is a piece of design that’s based on an old-fashioned object. You’ve invented a newfangled technology, but you design it to look and act much like the old tech it’s replacing.
For many years, Apple’s apps for iOS and Mac OS X were famous for their hilariously retro skeuomorphs. The calendar and the contact-list software had faux-leather cases and stitching. The books-and-magazines app showed publications perched on a little wooden shelf. The “game center” was designed to look like a green felt table at a casino, and so on.
Apparently many of these design specs came straight from Steve Jobs, who insisted on the casino-felt approach — and was so enamored of the leather stitching on his private jet that he personally demanded Apple’s apps be crafted from digital cowhide. As an anonymous Apple insider told Fast Company back in 2012…
“iCal’s leather-stitching was literally based on a texture in his Gulfstream jet,” says the former senior UI designer. “There was lots of internal email among UI designers at Apple saying this…