Cards in Computing Interfaces

Posted in Games, Web Design

We relegated skeuomorphism to yesterday’s design fashion. It’s a tool that was supposed to be largely unnecessary, now that users fully understand purely digital interfaces. The remaining use case for realistic analogies in computing is as cues to remind users of possible actions.

Then there’s the humble card.

The card is an interface unit that is at once both expansive in information conveyance as well as ease of digital manipulation. They usually represent singular objects, can contain text as well as images (sometimes animated), and some analogs allow the card to be “flipped over” for additional real estate. They can be stacked for efficient storage, shuffled for randomization, and intuitively organized in several different ways (stacked, tiled, and fanned out1 to start).

Both mobile Safari and Chrome use cards and card-like metaphors to represent webpages, while Twitter makes uses cards as a way to expand beyond 140 characters. When Palm built an entire operating system – WebOS – around cards, the analogy was immediately understood and lauded for its functionality and intuitiveness. Although the phones and the operating system never established marketplace momentum, its system of cards-as-computing-objects has found its way to every other mobile OS.

And now, there’s a category of video games that look to digitally represent physical card games. As Blizzard’s Hearthstone has proven itself to be massively successful, others have seized the opportunity to push for their own collectable card games. This is software that makes no qualms about trying to recreate physical cards, down to animating paper as it bends, to buying virtual card packs wrapped in foil.

As long as we like using little rectangular boxes to represent computing concepts, the card will remain a simple, powerful, and classically natural metaphor.


  1. In Windows nomenclature, “cascaded