Archive for June, 2010
This post is a reaction to Donald Norman and Jakob Nielsen’s essay on gestural interfaces, which I found quite interesting. (Speaking of Donald Norman, if you haven’t read his book, Design of Everyday Things, I highly recommend checking it out.) I appreciate the points made in the article, and would like to echo the argument, but I’d also like to place a significant caveat on some of the conlcusions.
The essay begins with a description of the state of gestural interfaces. I couldn’t agree with this more:
Nielsen put it this way: “The first crop of iPad apps revived memories of Web designs from 1993, when Mosaic first introduced the image map that made it possible for any part of any picture to become a UI element. As a result, graphic designers went wild: anything they could draw could be a UI, whether it made sense or not. It’s the same with iPad apps: anything you can show and touch can be a UI on this device. There are no standards and no expectations.”
Word. As a developer who considers himself a relatively thoughtful interaction designer (albeit imperfect), it’s nice to hear usability experts call out these developers more concerned with graphics. I’ll go so far as to estimate that the vast majority of iPhone applications are poorly designed and amateurish. I find very few applications on the app store acceptable. (I have 42 apps installed, and many of those need to be removed.)
The essay goes on to discuss the lack of standards. On this point, again, I couldn’t agree more that the divergence in design is frustrating and to the detriment of usability. In the case of the iPhone, I blame developers for this trend. Apple has, for the record, outlined UI design guidelines, and I find that built-in iPhone apps are relatively consistent, which should serve as a guide for the rest of us.
I can see an argument for making apps stylish and fun, but doesn’t Apple do that without deviating from their core, familiar interactions?
The essay attributes gestural usability problems to a few reasons:
The lack of established guidelines for gestural control The misguided insistence by companies (e.g., Apple and Google) to ignore established conventions and establish ill-conceived new ones. The developer community’s apparent ignorance of the long history and many findings of HCI research which results in their feeling of empowerment to unleash untested and unproven creative efforts upon the unwitting public.
Furthermore, the essay notes the fundamental principles of interaction design, which are: visibility, feedback, consistency, non-destructive operations, discoverability, scalability and reliability. The claim is made that “All these are rapidly disappearing from the toolkit of designers, aided, we must emphasize, by the weird design guidelines issued by Apple, Google, and Microsoft.”.
I’m not too familiar with the latest from Google and Microsoft, but this seems a little harsh in the case of Apple. I would argue that you can find examples of each of those principles thoughtfully considered in iOS. I’m sure there are exceptions, too, but given the ambition of what Apple has accomplished with gestural interfaces, it seems to me like they adequately considered these principles.
The essay continues:
We urgently need to return to our basics, developing usability guidelines for these systems that are based upon solid principles of interaction design, not on the whims of the company human interface guidelines and arbitrary ideas of developers.
Can someone confirm that Apple employs interaction design experts? I can’t imagine that their human interface guidelines are the collective whims of ignorant developers.
Sure, let’s develop some guidelines and improve gestural interfaces, but this is the caveat I’d like to add: I encourage Apple to keep doing what it’s doing. Once you consider the iPhone and iPad as engineering problems, I think Apple’s effort in usability is commendable. By ‘engineering problem’ I don’t mean to dismiss arguments regarding usability, but rather indicate that execution is hard and all products are imperfect.
A willingness to take risks and make mistakes is a critical part of innovation. Pre-release usability testing is important, but there’s always a tradeoff. More time perfecting the product increases development costs, which could increase the final price of the product. It also means the product is released later, and in the meantime, we wouldn’t even have an option of using gestural interfaces. The bottom line is that Apple is a company and not a standards or research body; usability is but one of many things they have to consider.
I also tend to believe that, all things equal, the more people involved in a project, the more difficult it becomes to be innovative. I bring this up because you could argue that Apple needs to employ more usability experts relative to engineers. While that might help devise better usability guidelines in theory, I am skeptical of its true value. More people means more communication overhead and politics, which can slow development iterations and dull thinking.
I look forward to the advances in gestural interfaces, but more so to the messy part done by Apple than the cleanup accomplished through research.
Twitbit 2.10 is now available on the App Store! It includes these new features:
- Added retweets tab
- Added public timeline tab
- Changed “add to contacts” behavior to add a link to the user’s Twitter page in addition to Twitbit
- Implemented various interface enhancements
- Fixed various small bugs and quirks
The first Chirpy feature update was released on the iPhone App Store today. Aside from a nasty crash-inducing bug, the initial launch went smoothly. We were pleased to receive a great deal of positive feedback. As is the case with all 1.0′s, however, there was definitely room for some improvement. We think this update addresses the most pressing deficiencies in 1.0. Here are the changes:
- Added a ‘find username’ button to the new message view (shows a batch of 100 friends)
- Added an automatic refresh when a push notification is received while the app is running
- Updated address book entries to include both the Chirpy url and the twitter.com user page
- Fixed bugs related to sending a message to a new recipient
- Fixed bug where ‘Add to Contacts’ button was enabled after adding a contact and restarting the app
- Fixed errant ‘dismiss’ button title that resulted after sending a new message
- Fixed some obvious landscape orientation bugs
We think it’s a nice little update, but you can expect that we won’t stop here. Enjoy!