Metaphors have been used successfully in the development of the computer's Graphical User Interface (GUI). A desktop metaphor used to describe common office tasks is sketched on the napkin at the left.
Metaphors are most effective in directing first time users on how to get a computer to perform tasks.
"Metaphors describe one thing in terms of another that enables us to grasp abstract concepts"
Visual metaphors such as the 'trash can' or 'arrow' offer a form of representation whose meanings have become commonly understood. But, designers must be aware of the limits of metaphors and not rely on them as the only means to communicate ideas to users.
The Myth of Metaphor
The Mouse and the Desktop