The death of any real adherence to Apple's Human Interfaces Guidelines, even by Apple themselves, is something I've written about here before. Depending on which side of the fence you're on, since my past writings, things may have only gotten worse on this front, still, no thanks to Apple.
We've been undergoing what I call the "Flashification" of what was once the clean, simple and usable Mac OS X user interface. More and more UIs seem to be moving to paradigms that are hard to use, have useless eye-candy and that change things just to change them, with no good design reason behind the changes, other than "it looks cool." Things that "look cool" but add nothing to usability or function are entertaining for all of about 30 seconds. How many times have you been to a web site that was written largely using Flash, only to find that a) you couldn't figure out how to do the simplest of things, and b) you couldn't even grab a link to send to someone... and that's one of the primary uses of a web page. Well this is kind of what applications on the Mac are becoming.
Dashboard is partly responsible for this, with its "widgets" and their non-standard, almost web page-like behaviors: lots of fixed window sizes, non-standard controls, controls that appear and disappear while giving you no indication that they are there at all until you mouse over them (these "User interface designers" clearly have no idea what affordances
are). And we're starting to see this creep into the application design space as well.
We're also starting to see backlash
in the Mac community. Rory Prior over at ThinkMac
writes about this in On the death of the HIG and the triumph of eye candy over usability
. His critique of iTunes 7
is also spot on I think.
One of the problems we're seeing is what has been seen on the web. Graphic design != user interface design. They are two totally different things, two totally different schools, yet more and more we're seeing them treated as the same thing, hence the number of impossible to use Flash web apps that look pretty. Pretty does not make something necessarily more usable. What's funny is that with Web 2.0
, developers are moving back towards desktop metaphors. Also, look at the new .Mac mail, GMail, etc. AJAX really is allowing for a more desktop app experience in the browser, after years of Flash based UIs.
Transparency creeping into the main windows of apps is another thing that has me shaking my head and asking "why?" Transparency is good for one thing really: allowing secondary tasks that don't completely obscure the primary task. This is why a HUD display can be good, why in iPhoto it's limited to the floating windows that are applying changes to the primary task. Transparency in main windows is just a distraction. It detracts from the primary task, so why is it helpful? I'd much rather minimize an application and get notified that it's finished from a Growl notification, then leave it up and in the way and try to do things behind that semi-transparent window anyway.
There is definitely a battle brewing: between flash and substance, between style and simplicity. Apple isn't helping by constantly throwing more and more into the mix and putting forth an "anything goes" mentality. Can the two sides be combined? Definitely, look at Apple hardware. It combines simplicity with understated and clean style. That's what we need to strive for in the application space too.