Whether you realize it or not we use metaphors on a daily basis. WolframAlpha describes a metaphor as, “a figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity.” Metaphors can be a useful tool when it comes to website design. When visiting a website, we often look for the fastest way to accomplish the task at hand. In order to find what we need as quickly as possible, we scan for metaphors or indicators to get us there. Designers utilize images and icons to portray different things (Turnbull, 2011). Let’s explore three metaphors that website designers often utilize.
First, we’ll look at icons which are heavily utilized within website design. Social media icons, which are most commonly located at the top or bottom of a webpage symbolize links to each specific social media platform. This is a metaphor in action and one that we often come in contact with. Furthermore, a phone icon represents the opportunity to call or find the given phone number, an envelope represents email, and a question mark often representations a “help” option.
Real Life Conventions
Next, let’s look at buttons. Turnbull states that a button on the web is not actually a button (2011). But because we make this connection in our mind to a real-life button, we assume that a website button can be “pressed”. This is an indicator of a real-life convention being translated into a virtual world. Buttons and other real-life conventions make for a smooth and easy user experience online.
Active metaphors are a little more tricky. These metaphors take real-life conventions to the next level and often replicate real-life objects. For example, Apple iBook’s original design mimicked a real bookshelf, although irrelevant to the functionality of the app (Babich, 2017). This tactic was later dismissed and Apple went in a much simpler direction. During a recent project, I utilized an active metaphor to describe and re-design a once hectic website. I decided to use the metaphor of a gallery to visually display a mass amount of information and content.
Metaphors are truly all around. What are some of the most common metaphors you’ve witnessed on the Internet?