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Designers Criticize Apple's User Interface For OS X and iOS 484

Posted by Soulskill
from the how-many-devices-have-they-sold dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Austin Carr notes that a number of user interface designers have become increasingly critical of Apple's approach to software user interface design. Much of their censure is directed against a trend called skeuomorphism, a term for when objects retain ornamental elements of the past that are no longer necessary to the current objects' functions, such as calendars with faux leather-stitching, bookshelves with wood veneers, fake glass and paper and brushed chrome. A former senior UI designer at Apple who worked closely with Steve Jobs said, 'It's like the designers are flexing their muscles to show you how good of a visual rendering they can do of a physical object. Who cares?' The issue is two-fold: first, that traditional visual metaphors no longer translate to modern users; and second, that excessive digital imitation of real-world objects creates confusion among users. 'I'm old enough, sure, but some of the guys in my office have never seen a Rolodex in real life,' says Designer Gadi Amit. 'Our culture has changed. We don't need translation of the digital medium in mechanical real-life terms. It's an old-fashioned paradigm.' One beneficiary could be Microsoft, where the design of Windows 8 distances itself from skeuomorphism by emphasizing a flat user interface that's minimalist to the core: no bevel, no 3-D flourishes, no glossiness and no drop shadow."
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Designers Criticize Apple's User Interface For OS X and iOS

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @08:19AM (#41385403)

    That's funny, because even though I don't much like Apple, I think that the "number of user interface designers" at Apple seem to have done fucking well at recognising what is easy to use.

    Is this like the way people in the GNOME project arbitrarily assign themselves the role of "user interface designers" and fuck things up three ways to Nevada?

  • Metro? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kagetsuki (1620613) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @08:20AM (#41385415)

    I agree with the point that using faux object representations is cheap, wastes space, and can be lost on people for sure. But to go for Metro as an example of good design? Sorry, I'd take cheap wood and leather graphics with gradient overlays and shadow underlays any day of the week over that.

  • by Nursie (632944) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @08:20AM (#41385419)

    We all know that self-described UI designers are never wrong when it comes to making things intuitive and easy to use.

    *cough* *gnome* *cough*

  • by TrekkieGod (627867) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @08:22AM (#41385435) Homepage Journal

    So many things to criticize about Apple's UI direction (the tabletization of OS X, for example), and they criticize the thing Apple is doing right.

    People like old fashioned aesthetics. Nobody had a need to use a sundial these days, but many people still decorate their yards with them. Seeing a wood bookshelf with real books stacked looks pretty and people see it as part of Apple's software polish.

  • by ifiwereasculptor (1870574) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @08:23AM (#41385453)

    Really? There's so much to criticize about Apple's design, like OSX's big and cluttered dock versus a tradicional taskbar, and they go straight for the superfluous fluff? Who cares about the icons? They are just fucking icons, replace them if you want to! What the hell happened to functionality in this world? It's like no one cares anymore, and "design" only means "making shit look fancy".

  • by noh8rz10 (2716597) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @08:24AM (#41385455)
    If I had to choose between the "skeumorphism" (fancy word) of OSx and iOS or the meh of windows 8, I,ll take the former thankyouverymuch.
  • by imagined.by (2589739) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @08:25AM (#41385461)

    Seriously, as a designer myself I can only shake my head when I read stuff like this.

    It may be true that "traditional visual metaphors no longer translate to modern users", but what about older users? Should we just dismiss their needs? Are interfaces really encumbered because they feature a wood-textured background?

    Also, I challenge you to come up with a symbol for saving files without using a diskette or something like that. These symbols have transpired from metaphors of real objects to metaphors of actions, and people who have never even seen a diskette learn their purpose by context. Granted, this creates a certain standard by convention, and you could argue that any symbol could be used for that. But again, that would dismiss the users who grew up with that symbol. Currently, everybody is happy, why challenge this?

    Imho, articles like this and blogs like skeu.it are just cleverly-disguised marketing by Microsoft. Ask any designer, and they'll tell you that well-used skeuomorphisms are not problematic, but even necessary to reach most of your target audience.

  • by Oligonicella (659917) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @08:26AM (#41385469)
    Wood veneer IS wood. It's a more efficient use of the wood. FAKE veneer is printed paper. That I don't care for, mostly because it peels. Modern people aren't unused to seeing wood.

    And please, brushed chrome? It's timeless - and it's metal. One hundred percent of the people I know are used to seeing chrome.

    "One beneficiary could be Microsoft, where the design of Windows 8 distances itself from skeuomorphism by emphasizing a flat user interface that's minimalist to the core: no bevel, no 3-D flourishes, no glossiness and no drop shadow."

    I hate minimalism, it's nothing new, it's nothing attractive, it requires no thought and it's ugly as hell.

    All of the above is, of course, my taste. HEY! An idea... allow the user to choose. Oh, yeah... skins. Maybe he hasn't heard of them.
  • by Zimluura (2543412) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @08:27AM (#41385477)

    with all the patent litigation, slashdot should really get a rotten apple picture for these stories.

  • It has its uses (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mr_lizard13 (882373) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @08:38AM (#41385589)
    I think there's such a thing a 'over-skeumorphing', but I do find it serves a purpose. Those shelves might not be real shelves, but it emphasises that those icons are books, not apps or games or anything else. And by using the same stitched leather across the iPhone, iPad and Mac version of the calendar app, it emphasises that the data you put in is shared between these apps. Same for the Reminders app. And the Notes app.

    I also think that having a strong visual identity for an app can make it more fun to look at and use, if that's your thing.

    I admire the slickness of Windows Phone, but it just feels a bit too depressing, bland and clinical for my liking. I don't feel like I'm supposed to have fun when I'm using a Windows Phone.
  • Tenuous at best (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @08:48AM (#41385653)

    I find this whole skeuomorphism thing to be tenuous at best. I'm 26 and have never used a rolodex nor a leather calendar book--and my phone hasn't looked like a corded handset since I was seven. But so what? I love the way all that stuff looks. There is a reason people go in for retro styles in the first place. We like that connection to the past. And to say that we are confused, simply because we're young is preposterous. We grew up on television. We've seen it all. Sure, we may laugh every time Jack McCoy picks up his tethered phone and flips through his rolodex to find another lawyer, but we aren't idiots. We know how this stuff works, and frankly I prefer the organic look of real objects to the sterile hospital environment of Google's design team. Just because the thing is digital does not mean it should look like it was designed for a Star Trek shoot.

  • by Tx (96709) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @08:51AM (#41385687) Journal

    Yeah, I was with the summary right up until it proposed Windows 8's mixed-up hash of an attempt to bolt a tablet UI and a desktop UI together as a superior alternative.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @08:51AM (#41385691) Journal

    The thing that I find very strange about Apple's UI peoples' obsession with ultra-tacky stitched leather borders, disgustingly twee fake paper calendars, little 'wooden' shelves for ebooks, and similar rot, is how sharply it differs from their hardware guys...

    On the hardware side, Apple's aesthetic is one of a practically brutalist honesty to their materials, and a fairly relentless drive to unify surface and structural elements(ie. aluminum unibodies, rather than ABS-clad magnesium or steel skeleton designs, that sort of thing). It is really quite jarring. Their hardware guys appear to be iterating toward the monolith from 2001, and then you turn the device on and *BAM* punched in the face by '90s shareware UI...

  • by crypticedge (1335931) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @09:08AM (#41385833)

    Even under the most retarded configurations the control panel in windows is at most 2 clicks away. If you can't click twice to get to something the average user shouldn't be messing with (and if you've seen the average user, mac or windows, you'll agree to that point) then you shouldn't be in it anyway. I find whenever I'm on a mac I can't find shit, spending 20 minutes trying to find it, and usually end up having to open up terminal to make a change because I know linux/unix systems significantly better. That is not a criticism of the UI, any lack of ability to find something in the most efficient way is always 100% the user not knowing the system.

    A mac is no more intuitive, it's all about what you're used to.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @09:15AM (#41385925)

    At the top:

    Apple's one-menu-to-serve-them-all approach is decidedly unfriendly when you have more than one monitor, as more and more of their machines come out of the box ready to operate with (and a machine like a Mac Pro can trivially be configured to run quite a few monitors.) But even a Mac Mini or a laptop will run two. What happens is that you're off on one monitor, you need a menu operation for the app you're working with, and the menu is 1,2 or perhaps six monitors of mouse-travel away. Menus on application windows make a great deal more sense.

    Typists -- by which I mean people who really type a fair bit, like writers or serious programmers -- are not served well by Apple's low profile "chiclet" keyboards. Apple gets the shivers by making their devices thin; but this means that keystroke throw is short, and what we end up with is a mushy keystroke.

    In the middle:

    Apple's one-app-at-a-time system UI messaging approach means that you can only send keystroke events to the active application. So, for instance, were you to attempt to write program B to automate program A, and the user happens to be using program C, any attempt to control program B from program A will require you to shift the user's focus from program C to program B, which is decidedly unfriendly. Applescript's mechanism for automation requires activation of this app, then that app, which means that the user can't be trying to use the machine when the Applescript is running. Which is kind of a serious faux pas for what is nominally marketed as a multitasking machine.

    There's no inter-program messaging paradigm other than the network. No named ports, etc. This also has severe implications for automation.

    At the bottom:

    UDP messaging is used to send network events in a broadcast manner. Apple's implementation of UDP only allows one program on a machine to bind to a UDP port, meaning that only one program on that machine can catch a broadcast -- which in turn means that if your implementation really needed a broadcast mechanism, you can't use UDP for it.

    ---

    That's just a sampling of UI issues with the OS. Against these rather immediate problems, I find the whole issue of make-it-look-like-[object] to be silly.

    Don't know what the [object] is? It's a one-time learning trip down memory (or history) lane, and you're up and running. Operation is easy, even if, lawd forbid, you had to learn something.

    On the other hand, when you need to get at a menu across a bunch of monitors, you're kind of hammered. It's time to go hunt for a third-party fix. If you need to really type, it's time to go buy a keyboard from a third party. If you need broadcast, I hope someone warned you the UDP stuff is broken so you don't waste your time trying to use it. If you're trying to implement IPC, well... [hollow laughter] I bet you'll wish you were working under Amiga OS before you even get seriously started. And no, Applescript won't get you even close because of the above-mentioned application focus issues.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @09:25AM (#41386025)

    I think command-delete is what you wanted.

    It is just easier to open a terminal and use rm though.

    At least that still works like it should.

  • by Clsid (564627) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @09:36AM (#41386137)

    You just need to learn to use the system. If you complain about stuff like that on a Mac, I cannot imagine how you would be trashing Linux for all its quirkiness. Systems are different. The most productive system is the one where you learn all the keyboard shortcuts and the easiest is the one with the pretty GUIs and less clutter. Choose your poison and stop whining.

  • by crypticedge (1335931) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @09:39AM (#41386159)

    Why must the user click two keyboard keys for the same function that every other os (Yes, every other one.) only requires a single key press, and a single press is a logical expected command for it? How is that exactly the "superior" UI that keeps getting touted? That's intentionally making it more difficult on the user there, and is a very valid UI criticism, and there are obviously more that can be given.

    Terminal rm is significantly easier to remember for those of us who are used to systems that work the way 94% of the world uses them (has mac os hit 7% market share world wide yet?)

  • by mothlos (832302) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @09:40AM (#41386183)

    Yeah, like those awesome sorted grids of icons which make finding that one thing you want dead simple.

    Or those application docks which make it obvious to users how to open a second instance of an open application or switch between multiple open instances.

    Perhaps you were referring to media library organizers which use a completely different set of metaphors and visual cues from the file system and are essentially incompatible making it less difficult when users want to interact with their file browser... somehow.

  • by Shoten (260439) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @10:02AM (#41386439)

    In other news...actual users criticize design of the majority of systems they use, wondering why they can't be more like IOS or the experience of using a Mac...

  • I disagree (Score:1, Insightful)

    by baalzebub (2505250) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @10:05AM (#41386485)
    Quite the contrary, I think Apple's design do look more modern. Especially if you compare them to Metro. Metro can be more functional (especially on mobile devices) but to casual users (as in, most of the computer/gadget users) it's not as comfortable. Also, Metro do look cold. It's a colorful interface, but it has no personality. You just do whatever you need to do and be done with it, but you still don't feel that process was natural. You need to learn how to do the things you want to do and after awhile the whole process becomes boring. You don't feel anything while you're using your device. That's not what Apple is aiming at. Apple's design is the way it is because Apple wants users to engage with the device they're using. They don't want you to just do your job and get on with it. They want you to feel something while you're using it, they want you to enjoy it. Metro doesn't achieve that, and frankly, it doesn't seem like Microsoft was trying to achieve something like that either. Plus, because of all this skeuomorphism thing, this "high-tech" devices doesn't seem scary to casual gadget/computer users. I know a lot of people who don't use a particular device because they're afraid they can mess things up or they think can't use it. Devices intimidates them. Apple's devices are not like that. Even if you haven't touched a single Apple device nor seen one, once you get one in your hands, you have this feeling of similarity. You feel like you've been using the device you're holding for a long time, and whatever you want to do, you just do it naturally and the device reacts. You almost never need to learn anything. That's something unique to Apple and is one of the many reasons why they're so successful.
  • by Bongo (13261) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @10:27AM (#41386747)

    Indeed. Besides it is just textures. Architects went nuts in the 20s ripping out all texture and decoration to create a clean pure look. But in the end people found it cold and inhuman, and cold concrete and metal gets boring. So it just helps to have a bit of variety and decoration. Not everyone wants to live in MUJI world or a Rietveld Schröder House. Besides the textures offset the clean simple hardware. And when looking at a screen all day, a bit of variety helps. Of course one might not like the particular textures, that's a different matter.

  • by WankersRevenge (452399) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @10:42AM (#41386931)

    Before Disney, you could find a whole variety of animation styles.

    Disney was established in 1923. Animation was in its infancy. Filmmaking was in its infancy. Such a statement needs clarification.

    But the vision of Disney was to make everything round and smooth and beautiful. Every animation cel was to look like a masterpiece portrait -- because that was the general populace's desired art at the time.

    Citation needed. Disney has almost ninety years of animation history with a range of divergent styles. I can't say what 1920's American looked for in its art, but I can certainly say that animation was a novelty at its time.

    And that's what Disney was trying to make, animated art.

    Again, citation needed. And also clarification ... Disney the company? Disney the man? Disney the man started making shorts such as Steamboat Willie. 1928 [slashdot.org]. The point of this short wasn't to make art, but to entertain. Disney the company has been making a range of animated films for years of many different styles. All can be described as "art". Even Steamboat Willie.

    You might have found a sharp edge on a villain like Jafar in Aladdin but the main character would be round and warm.

    Now we are in the Eisner era. This needed to be noted at the start of the argument.

    Others tried to mimic the stylings and it became a de facto standard mostly because it sold.

    What others? And seriously ... do you think Disney was the first to use lines, curves and edges as a way to depict stylistically character? That's a ludicrous statement which needs a citation.

    That's just the first paragraph. It may make great banter for cocktail parties, but it means nothing.

  • by agentgonzo (1026204) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @10:58AM (#41387135)

    In fact, we should consider calling them something other than folders too....

    In the linux world (and pre-Windows-95 world), we call them 'directories'

  • by MrEdofCourse (2670081) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @11:07AM (#41387277) Homepage

    The problem with the one key DEL as opposed to the two-key Command+DEL, is that with the one key, it would be very easy to accidentally delete files. No big deal, right? You could just recover them from the trash... but that's only if you know you did that. Two-keys prevents that.

    I'm also not sure why a single key would be expected anyway, when every other "command" is preceded by the Command key.

    Command+s = save
    Command+q = quit
    Command+o = open
    Command+p = print ...
    Command+DEL = delete

    How, after 45 seconds, did you not get this, especially when the shortcut is listed right there in the file menu?

  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @11:19AM (#41387455) Homepage Journal

    If you complain about stuff like that on a Mac, I cannot imagine how you would be trashing Linux for all its quirkiness.

    Quirkiness? How? You realize, I hope, that there is no one Linux, there are many different distros of Linux. Gnome? I hate it. KDE? In what way is it quirky? It follows every convention I can think of, and if you're used to Mac or Windows (any flavor of either) you'll find it very easy to use; much easier than any version of Windows. Windows is a useability nightmare (I understand iOS is pretty useable, maybe even better than kde; I haven't used it).

  • by UnknownSoldier (67820) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @11:34AM (#41387629)

    Agreed. The problem is most people don't understand the reason WHY Metro is a horrible UI -- hint: it has to do with context.

    When you have a "flat" UI you have no *secondary* _visual_ cues to tell you what you can interact with or not. You see this effect in many iPhone apps where they will have this absolutely beautiful graphics (and backgrounds) and you have no clue what the hell is an actual UI "widget" that you can push, slide, etc.

    OSX Mountain Lion is starting to fall for this trap by hiding scroll bars. When I need to scroll, such as dragging the slider up/down, I can't even tell where it unless I first do a dummy scroll. This is retarded.

    With a more "traditional" approach with *some* 3D elements such as drop shadows, beveled corners, these widgets "stand out" so we have a more natural intuitive sense to make the *critical* distinction between 2 UI elements:

      * what is purely static which conveys information
      * what can I interactive with.

    UI is *supposed* to be about making it EASIER for users by *helping* them think less and act more by streamlining their judgement process. 3D Buttons are a perfect example of this: Users internally are thinking "Ah, here is a button I can push -- OK, what does it do? Does it do what I think it does? Does it do what I need it to do?"

    ALSO note that TOO many 3D elements is a hinderance. 3D Studio, Blender, etc, are HORRIBLE UI's simply because they *overload* the user with too *many* widgets. It is an design art-form to maximize minimalism and minimize functionality. Sadly, too many UIX don't have a freaking clue about the fundamentals.

    Without recognizing this deep contradistinction UI designers are completely screwing users over making them play the what-can-I-interact-with-game. This is 5 steps backwards. *sigh* Somebody everyone will realize we need to change the computer to fit US, instead of trying to change humans to fit the computer.

  • by azav (469988) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @12:03PM (#41388109) Homepage Journal

    Nope. Since 10.6.8, the interface has become significantly more irritating to use.

    I spend more time turning irritating animations off and restoring graphics to a useful state (damn damn desaturated buttons in Lion) that these new updates cost me more money than if I had just stayed with Snow Leopard.

    Sadly, Apple dropped making fixes for Xcode with Snow Leopard and that leaves things in a shitty state, basically forcing me to upgrade, even though there is no other useful reason to do so besides Xcode.

  • by BeanThere (28381) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @12:19PM (#41388447)

    Maybe we should go further, and get rid of the concept of computers - after all, computers are not a concept people without computers are familiar with.

    There are many things people do in real life that are purposely throw-away, including builders. It is a terrible and retarded idea to think that everything must be saved instantly. All people have a mental concept like "scratch space" or "throwaway work". Even builders will try certain new things, e.g. techniques in a test 'throwaway' or practice environment before doing them on a real project. If it were true that everything should be saved instantly, why do we even bother having a pre-submit stage while entering forum comments? Hey, let's just show our forum comments live, continually even as we are typing them. This 'continually save instantly' meme is terrible - what is worse is that now we will have an environment where some software users get used to not saving their work, and then lose work in other software. But then maybe that's the idea - that users will subtly get angry at other non-Apple software for 'losing their work' - a sly psychological manipulation.

  • by quacking duck (607555) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @01:28PM (#41389595)

    Accidental spacebar presses do not invoke a "destructive" command in the file browser.

    On a modern Mac OS file browser (Finder) the spacebar invokes QuickLook, on Windows (Explorer) it selects a bordered file (or does nothing). Assuming you're not in filename edit context, of course.

    The other issue with just using delete on files on the Mac is, you can't count on there being a "forward delete" key since even desktop Macs ship with the smaller, non-extended keyboard.

    For the same reason, there is no filesystem "Cut" command on a Mac, via menu or shortcut keys. On Windows this is of course just the first part of a file-move sequence. It's inherently non-destructive so here, at least, Apple doesn't have good reason for excluding it.

    What's your issue with accidental shift key presses?

  • by petsounds (593538) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @03:04PM (#41390987)

    When you have a "flat" UI you have no *secondary* _visual_ cues to tell you what you can interact with or not. You see this effect in many iPhone apps where they will have this absolutely beautiful graphics (and backgrounds) and you have no clue what the hell is an actual UI "widget" that you can push, slide, etc.

    Agreed. Or they don't follow their own gestural patterns they've instilled in people, such as the Calendar app in which you can't swipe through the months, but instead have to click on tiny arrows at the bottom of the screen.

    Another motivation Apple designers have had recently is, "Let's get the clutter out of the way so users can focus on the content". In theory this sounds good, but in practice on Mountain Lion they have reduced the UI widgets in size drastically -- ML window buttons (the "traffic lights") or the thin scroll bars. They're also doing things like hiding UI elements, which we see this in the system scroll bars and in the chrome for QuickTime Player. This creates extra cognitive work for users, and IMO creates more of a net distraction than just having a tried-and-true fullscreen button. And I would imagine people with shaky hands or bad eyesight would have real trouble clicking on Mountain Lion's tiny interface elements. For me, I certainly have to concentrate more to make sure I click on the buttons.

    Either the changes in these basic UI elements is the embracement of a disastrous design philosophy by Apple UI designers, or Apple is slowly trying to phase out the mouse completely.

    It's been reported that internally there has been in-fighting over skeumorphism. I think the software UI design team at Apple is off the rails. They don't have a leader that understands the fundamentals, and Apple no longer has a leader like Jobs to tell them what works and doesn't. [To be fair, Jobs is the one who first pushed skeumorphism when he changed iTunes to the brushed metal look.] I think Jony Ive should take over leadership of the hardware and software design teams. When OS X was first released, its Aqua UI tastefully matched the hardware cues of the Macs available then. Now, it's a complete divorce. You have these sleek, intuitive forms that Sir Ive designs, and tacky, unintuitive software running on them.

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