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Glossary » metaphor


the use of one idea or object to represent another; making an implicit comparison between concepts to provide insight into those concepts.

Metaphor is used widely in graphical user interfaces to help set users’ expectations and make the behavior of computers clearer. The “desktop metaphor” is used to suggest that a computer screen is like a physical desk, with papers and folders to shuffle around and various desk accessories, such as calculators, printers, and notepads. A general physical world metaphor is what allows a beveled border to suggest a button and allows close parallel lines to suggest that something is draggable.

Metaphors are also useful techniques for designers to explore representations of concepts and the behavior of interface elements. Designers may also apply wild and unrelated metaphors as a useful brainstorming device.