Thursday, November 19, 2015
Ah! The hazards of blogging "evergreen" topics in advance. The day
before yesterday (as of scheduled publication), a story about Apple
"destroying" design caught my eye, and I commented on it briefly:
A rather lengthy piece argues that, since introducing its smart phones and tablets, Apple has been abandoning the design principles that made it great and, in the process, giving the field of design a bad name:
Apple is destroying design. Worse, it is revitalizing the old belief that design is only about making things look pretty. No, not so! Design is a way of thinking, of determining people's true, underlying needs, and then delivering products and services that help them. Design combines an understanding of people, technology, society, and business. The production of beautiful objects is only one small component of modern design: Designers today work on such problems as the design of cities, of transportation systems, of health care.I have only skimmed through the longer case, but my impression is that this is true, and it bothers me that Google, another tech industry leader, seems to be following Apple's lead.
Apple is reinforcing the old, discredited idea that the designer's sole job is to make things beautiful, even at the expense of providing the right functions, aiding understandability, and ensuring ease of use. [bold added]
I always find such decisions puzzling, and usually, I have to fight the urge to dismiss the people who make them as idiots. That said, Apple and Google seem to be getting away with their foolishness for now. It is interesting to consider that their success comes in different ways (1) despite such decisions or (2) because of them (due to passivity being common among many members of the buying public).
But the topic has caught fire enough for me to see that it is being discussed vigorously. This merits more timely posting on my part: I thus yank it from my "rainy day" post pool and note another commentator's qualifying remarks, among them:
Yet Apple's fumbles with the "undo" and "back" features also illustrate a crucial -- and rather obvious -- point that [Bruce] Tognazzini and [Don] Norman scarcely mention: the inevitable constraints of a pocket-sized device. They worked at the company in an era of desktop computers, when keyboards came standard and screen real estate came cheap. Now space is at a premium, posing design challenges they never dreamed of. Drop-down menus and fixed buttons would be nice, sure, but they'd hopelessly clutter a 5-inch screen. Apple has no choice but to hide them. For a designer working in this context, visual simplicity isn't a fetish. It's a prerequisite.This may be true, but imitators, like Google (linked above) or Microsoft (See Windows 8.) would do well to keep in mind why some of these decisions are made. We don't all use "fondle-slabs" for everything or at all times, and it is an offense against good design to impose such limitations on non-users just because the spare interfaces they require seem more elegant.