An absolute must-read from Don Norman and Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini, two absolute heavyweights in the field of usability. On top of that, Tognazzini was heavily involved in the development of the early interface guidelines at Apple, which gives him a unique perspective on the matter.
The products, especially those built on iOS, Apple’s operating system for mobile devices, no longer follow the well-known, well-established principles of design that Apple developed several decades ago. These principles, based on experimental science as well as common sense, opened up the power of computing to several generations, establishing Apple’s well-deserved reputation for understandability and ease of use. Alas, Apple has abandoned many of these principles. True, Apple’s design guidelines for developers for both iOS and the Mac OS X still pay token homage to the principles, but, inside Apple, many of the principles are no longer practiced at all. Apple has lost its way, driven by concern for style and appearance at the expense of understandability and usage.
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. 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.
The problem Apple is facing – as has been explained to me by people who are in the know about these matters – is that the people originally responsible for usability at Apple, including those responsible for the first multitouch interface of the first iPhone, are no longer at Apple. The company currently doesn’t have an overarching philosophy when it comes to user interface design, leading to the problems described in detail in this article. The software side of Apple lacks its own Ive, if you will.
And boy, does it show. I bought an iPhone 6S (the pink one, 64GB) a couple of weeks ago, and while I don’t want to reveal too much from my review, I’m appalled at just how unfocused, chaotic, messy, inconsistent, and hard to use iOS has become. This article articulates really well where the main problems lie.
It’s easy to look at Apple’s massive profits and the quality of its hardware and miss the abysmal state of Apple’s software. They’ve got a lot of work to do – and they really need the right people to get there.