Today, it seems we’re on another track completely. Despite being endlessly fawned over by an army of professionals, Usability, or as it used to be called, “User Friendliness”, is steadily declining. During the last ten years or so, adhering to basic standard concepts seems to have fallen out of fashion. On comparatively new platforms, I.E. smartphones, it’s inevitable: the input mechanisms and interactions with the display are so different from desktop computers that new paradigms are warranted.
Worryingly, these paradigms have begun spreading to the desktop, where keyboards for fast typing and pixel-precision mice effectively render them pointless. Coupled with the flat design trend, UI elements are increasingly growing both bigger and yet somehow harder to locate and tell apart from non-interactive decorations and content.
I doubt anyone here will disagree with the premise of this article, even if you might disagree with some of the examples. These past few weeks I’ve set up virtual machines of all the old Windows releases just to remind myself of just how good the graphical user interface introduced in Windows 95 was perfected over the years, culminating in the near-perfect Classic theme in Windows XP and Server 2003.
Later iterations of the Classic theme, in Vista and onward, would sadly retain some of the Aero UI elements even when setting the Classic theme, ruining the aesthetic, and of course, the Classic theme is gone altogether now – you can’t set it in Windows 10. Similarly, Platinum in Mac OS 9 is still more coherent, more usable, and more intentful than whatever macOS brought to the table over the years.
We can find solace in the fact that trends tend to be cyclical, so there’s a real chance the pendulum will eventually wing back.