A Few Random Thoughts on Design

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A Few Random Thoughts on Design

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In using iOS7 for a bit, my biggest problem with it is that the design is in my face, and I am constantly reflecting back on that body snatchers video of Jony Ive explaining the rationale. That‘s today‘s target. The good news is I still really like the phone and find it mostly pretty usable. The better news is that I think this is going to be a veryinteresting test of Apple‘s ability to adapt. Because there are a LOT of things that could be improved here. Many people online seem to think that that will happen between now and release. I‘d love to see that. In the meantime, let me just do some pejorative-laced philosophizing…

The Use of Text: somewhere between the Eeyore-like Ive intro and the WWDC session, the idea was floated that text is clearer, and thus, increasing the use of it, by definition, makes your interface easier to understand. This is so dumb, it hurts to even think about it. Especially given that the interface uses tons of images that are completely useless. For instance, look at the icon for iPhoto. What is that? It's a bunch of balloons in a star shape. What in bloody hell does that have to do with taking photos? The answer is including something like a camera would tell the world that we are still in the skeumorphic realm. Ok, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I don't think it's going out on a limb to say that ios7 is clearly a reactionary work: it's main goals are to mute criticism, which is always a bad idea. The use of text, especially inside the Mail app, feels terrible: like you've been kidnapped, taken on a skiff, and forced to play a never-ending game of hangman. The < and > characters everywhere truly are so anti-design that after a while, they land like a slap on the face.

Meantime, there are still tons of huge issues with Mail that are left unaddressed. Yes, they are issues of how the app works. For instance, being able to mark all messages. I heard that was there. Wow, mark all as read is going to be great. Yeah that‘s not really there..

This is the other problem: by scraping the veneer and laying down another one, you distract the user‘s attention from the fact that there just aren‘t that many large steps forward in terms of the overall design on the other layer: how things work.

If I were going to add to the Tumblr about Jony‘s redesigns, I would put in a picture of a car, where the gas and brake pedals have had garish, silly text labels affixed to them.

Since I‘m an atheist, I am going to say that to atone for these sins, rather than a trip around a rosary bead, I recommend that Jony take a short tour of Semiotics. Start with Charles Sanders Pierce and maybe go through Saussure and a tad bit of Roland Barthes. Seriously, this is the work of a group of people who are confused about how language (text and visual) works.

The Heuristics of Learned Systems – What is the primary goal of the interface? The designers of iOS7 think it is to make the popcorn trail as clear as possible. Ok, let‘s think about this: we are going to take the same paths over and over again. The interface seems to think that it‘s going to do us a huge favor by making things clearer, but it seems to either forget or not realize that what we actually do is we LEARN interfaces, then we USE them over and over. One of the best things to happen in the design world in the past 5 years or so is that people have started designing interfaces that TEACH (that‘s how you get someone to learn), while they are being used, then the teaching recedes naturally. For some reason, Apple, believing themselves to be the best designers on the planet, eschew this course. And yet, in their WWDC session on design, they bring up the work of a team that built an iOS app to preach this very strategy. iOS7 is a perfect example of what a disastrous choice it is to just surrender to feeling like you have to just label everything so that no one will put the salt in the recipe that calls for sugar.

Here are a few thoughts on this one:

  • use Siri: there should be a simple way to invoke contextual information at any point through Siri, e.g. ‘Siri, what am I supposed to put in this field?‘
  • make videos: the initial launch of the iPhone was filled with use case videos. To me, that was Apple at its peak in terms of communications. Since then, we have gotten too much precious fetishism, and self-congratulatory fawning. Show me use cases, and show them to me in a way that they instruct.
  • crowd source some of this: Apple should redefine the beta. Let‘s face the fact, the way betas are conducted is still pretty Neanderthal: ‘here‘s a release with a bunch of issues, go use our ancient bug reporting system as you find them.‘ What we should have instead are the equivalent of Instruments: something that tells them that everyone is stumbling through deleting messages in the Phone App‘s Voicemail table, or that the sliding menu to archive or delete messages is being done multiple times. But beyond that, it should also maybe just jump in and ask for feedback about different aspects of a process (Siri again could just ask you a few quick questions.)

This all has the feel of someone designing something for someone else . Which is also a disaster. We get the feeling at every turn that the designers don‘t need these crazy skeletal directions: they are deigning to leave them there for a perceived ignorant underclass. Instead, the Designers should try and coax everyone up to the highest level of seamless function. Want to make a really magical interface? Focus on showing people HOW to do things, and less on reminding them a thousand times you think they have to be told WHAT TO DO. :)


Published at DZone with permission of Rob Williams , DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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