34 comments

  • Ted McDonald, over 2 years ago (edited over 2 years ago )

    For those of you don't wish to read the entire article, it's essentially another guy who's upset that Apple doesn't use excessive skeuomorphism in their interface anymore.

    There are some decent points to the article, like the removal of almost all color in the interface, but in general, the article comes across as a longing for the days of unnecessary ornamentation in interfaces.

    Like the image below (from the article). The author makes the claim that the new look (on the right side) represents an "aesthetic decay." It's a purely subjective claim, as many such articles tend to be constructed of.

    Comparison

    29 points
    • , over 2 years ago

      Hi, Ted. Thanks for reading.

      For those of you don't wish to read the entire article, it's essentially another guy who's upset that Apple doesn't use excessive skeuomorphism in their interface anymore.

      I thought my article made it clear that I intended to do much more than reminisce about past Apple interfaces, but I am sorry if I failed. Would you tell me what "excessive skeuomorphism" means to you? This is not a quip; I am genuinely curious.

      There are some decent points to the article, like the removal of almost all color in the interface...

      Thank you; I appreciate the acknowledgement.

      Like the image below (from the article). The author makes the claim that the new look (on the right side) represents an "aesthetic decay." It's a purely subjective claim, as many such articles tend to be constructed of.

      You are right. However, I embrace the subjectivity of the article's claims. Should designers discuss only what people can measure objectively? I would believe that a boring discussion indeed, missing a vital chunk of what it means to "design" things. Taste, and the motives that give rise to it, reveal a lot.

      11 points
      • Ted McDonald, over 2 years ago (edited over 2 years ago )

        Would you tell me what "excessive skeuomorphism" means to you?

        Let's use the Time Machine example again.

        Putting aside subjective taste for the moment, the skeuomorphic elements of the icon and screenshot add nothing of value in terms of usability or understanding.

        The main difference in both the icon and screenshot, between versions, is the light speed/wormhole graphics. But those graphics do not help the user understand what Time Machine actually does (browsing through previous file incarnations), it's the staggered windows that play that role. In fact, light speed graphics could just as easily symbolize parallel or forward movement in time, which does not even make sense with the idea of file backup.

        On the icon, it's the backwards and circular arrow that represents the idea of prior file versions. The thick chrome with metal bolts outlining the old icon is meaningless to many people, including myself.

        That is what is meant by "excessive." Its skeuomorphism that is added without solving any problem, which can also be distracting to some or many users.

        However, I embrace the subjectivity of the article's claims. Should designers discuss only what people can measure objectively?

        I don't mind if someone prefers the aesthetic (I do too in certain contexts), but many skeuomorphic proponents tend to treat flatter design as an inherent loss in clarity or function, which I think is simply not true.

        6 points
        • Nicholas Windsor Howard, over 2 years ago

          Putting aside subjective taste for the moment, the skeuomorphic elements of the icon and screenshot add nothing of value in terms of usability or understanding.

          I will debate this point. Apple understandably chose the metaphor of a time machine for looking back in time at one's system. Nearly everyone, let alone just those using a Mac, already "knows the drill" with the concept of a time machine. Apple, utilizing this fact, reinforced the metaphor with their historically/fantastically derived interface and icon. If the old interface and icon looked as they did primarily to reinforce a widely-understood metaphor, why decontextualize them by removing the main features that identified them as parts of a "Time Machine"?

          The thick chrome with metal bolts outlining the old icon is meaningless to many people, including myself.

          It seems clear to me, as it evidently seemed clear to Apple in 2007, that the bolted chrome refers to the fantastical image of a time machine. This fact means the chrome is not meaningless. If you have other arguments against the chrome, I remain intrigued, but meaninglessness is not one.

          That is what is meant by "excessive." Its skeuomorphism that is added without solving any problem, which can also be distracting to some or many users.

          If you do not mind my asking, what about the Time Machine skeuomorph would distract anyone from anything?

          I don't mind if someone prefers the aesthetic (I do too in certain contexts), but many skeuomorphic proponents tend to treat flatter design as an inherent loss in clarity or function, which I think is simply not true.

          With all respect, I am not "many skeuomorphic proponents"; I am me. I certainly do not treat flatter (even utterly flat) design as an inherent loss in clarity or function, although a dogmatic flat-only approach does shrink the designer's toolbox. Simply browse my website, which I designed, to see that I do not disown flatness. Flat elements, with a few exceptions, dominate my site. If I thought flatness necessarily led to an inherent loss in clarity or function, I would have designed my site differently.

          3 points
        • Nicholas Windsor Howard, over 2 years ago

          If you want to present a weak skeuomorph, consult the old design of the Reminders application. It featured a charcoal-colored, leathery background with a dubious connection to any useful real-world concept or object. Time Machine was a useful skeuomorph in that its design reinforced its central metaphor, thereby aiding its users in understanding it; Reminders, however, referred vaguely to reality without a well-chosen metaphor to support the reference. Its leather-ity was meaningless.

          (Find My Friends had equally meaningless leather, and it too could have benefitted from a better metaphor.)

          3 points
          • Cecil Lancaster, over 2 years ago

            Hm.. just to play devil's advocate on this particular comment, I would say that the leather look & feel of the Reminders app was a reference to physical carry-sized notebooks, probably something of a 'classier' executive/business styling.

            For Find My Friends, the reference there was to more of a picnic-style motif -- almost "summer campy", if you will. The thought being an outdoors outing with family/friends.

            Not saying I prefer these looks, just thoughts from where I personally see the creative origins stemming from.

            1 point
            • Nicholas Windsor Howard, over 2 years ago

              Thank you, Sir Devil; I think you make reasonable suppositions here. Neither of those possible creative origins had ever occurred to me. Evidently, though, Apple chose more recognizable motifs in other formerly skeuomorphic applications, such as Notes. In my mind, the yellow notepad is unmistakable.

              0 points
    • Corin EdwardsCorin Edwards, over 2 years ago

      God that old time machine icon has not aged well. Rivets, gross.

      0 points
  • dave fdave f, over 2 years ago

    Eli Schifs writing seems to be improving

    10 points
  • Duncan RussellDuncan Russell, over 2 years ago

    Yeah, I'm still not buying it. Aqua's glossy UI made barely any fucking sense, and I don't think this critique was really written with the user interface in mind at all.

    Most of these articles (from both sides) try to make some kind of argument based on usability, without any real evidence, instead of just admitting that we're dealing with a designer's personal taste.

    9 points
    • , over 2 years ago

      Hi, Duncan. I am grateful you took the time to respond.

      Aqua's glossy UI made barely any fucking sense ...

      I would be intrigued to hear you explain this comment more thoroughly. What did you mean by it? I think Aqua's glossy interface shone with whimsicality and friendliness, was remarkably easy and fun to use, and (more so earlier in its life cycle) made handy and tasteful use of metaphor.

      I don't think this critique was really written with the user interface in mind at all.

      What did you believe I had in mind, if not the interface?

      Most of these articles ...

      I would like to request politely that you respond to the arguments put forth in my article, not those put forth in other articles. If you have words to offer for or against my piece, I invite you to express them.

      ... try to make some kind of argument based on usability, without any real evidence ...

      My article dealt mostly in arguments from reason and common sense, not in evidence. For instance, why not make a virtual button look more obviously like a real button? That decision has inherent and obvious benefits: while the change might not make any difference to some people who use the computer, to others it can shed light more immediately on the function of the button. At the very least, rendering the button more realistically would hurt no one. Why not do it?

      ... instead of just admitting that we're dealing with a designer's personal taste.

      At points in this article, we are indeed dealing with a designer's personal taste. I freely admit that fact. As I observed in my above reply to Ted, taste carries great significance, and I wish people felt more comfortable discussing it.

      4 points
  • Nathan HueningNathan Huening, over 2 years ago

    Man, Nicholas, there's some chuffed designer folk in this comment thread. I wasn't going to comment but I saw that most of what you received here is negative; unjustifiably so. So I wanted to say I enjoyed the article very much, both your prose, the thesis, and the care you put into writing it (and putting yourself out for criticism).

    It's not clear to me why all these "designers" get so worked up about articles like this (sorry, I'm comparing you to Eli Schiff, whose analog commentary here on DN is inescapable). Seems to me like some of the egos are a bit fragile; reading someone praise or criticize design doesn't diminish me, so I don't feel threatened or defensive. The more thoughts and rational critique, the better, as far as I'm concerned.

    I learn something new each time and have no objection to "subjective" design reviews (ridiculous that I had to even include that, as though there were any such thing). I mean, we can discuss data collected from users, in terms of tasks completed, timing, etc., but talking about "objective design" is like talking about "objective music". It's always going to reflect the tastes, values, and ethos of the maker.

    2 points
    • , over 2 years ago

      Thank you, Nathan, very much. The chuffed comments, while sometimes bafflingly so, urge me onward: they tell me that my article awakened the flames of passion in designers. I would rather receive either love or hate than indifference.

      So I wanted to say I enjoyed the article very much, both your prose, the thesis, and the care you put into writing it (and putting yourself out for criticism).

      I sense a vacuum of solidly constructed writing and argument in the "design sphere." The dearth surprises me, but it also motivates me to be the change I wish to see, to paraphrase the well-known quote. I also write because, as with the other, non-design subjects in which I immerse myself (music is one of them, coincidentally), I believe I must put out thoughtful, intelligent, unique, potentially polarizing work that I care profoundly about. Thank you for your meaningful and kind acknowledgement.

      It's not clear to me why all these "designers" get so worked up about articles like this (sorry, I'm comparing you to Eli Schiff, whose analog commentary here on DN is inescapable).

      I believe that Eli and I share many of the aspirations I listed above. You need not apologize; I consider the comparison a sort of compliment.

      Throughout your comment, I felt much in common with your points and occasionally let loose laughs of relief. I value a calm voice.

      P. S. Thank you for using my name to address me.

      1 point
    • Duncan RussellDuncan Russell, over 2 years ago (edited over 2 years ago )

      I can confirm that this "designer":

      • Wasn't so worked up
      • can keep his ego from shattering completely, most days
      • did not feel diminished, threatened, or defensive.

      And simply just disagreed :)

      Apologies to both if my first post came across a little sharp though. I was just casually commenting in passing.

      1 point
  • Patrick SmithPatrick Smith, over 2 years ago

    Boy, yeah I really disagree with the over arching theme to this. I agree about the reduction in colour — a red delete button I think is more usable.

    I believe OS X’s UI started going downhill while Steve Jobs was still alive. The interface of Leopard brought some much needed pleasantries (removal of brush metal with a smooth gradient, and unifying it with the other window styles) with just pure excess (The Dock! That awful reflective Dock). At the time I felt the Time Machine UI was too garish. Here is some critique from the time http://arstechnica.com/apple/2007/10/mac-os-x-10-5/4/ — 2007! (Note the greying of icons began during this time.)

    Releases such as Lion brought awful skueomorphism to the Calendar, Contacts, and Notes. The decoration was so over the top, it got in the way of just using the thing. The skueomorphism was shallow — much of it added nothing. It’s like it was trying to be a statement in itself. They went much too far with the sense of play. I believe quite a lot of it was just badly executed.

    I do believe there is a deterioration in Apple’s software design. I believe the core of the problem is a loss of skill and taste in usability. Steve Jobs very often enforced a benchmark for Apple’s software to reach. He also had a good feel for usability, and was prepared to reject anything that was too complicated or was poorly thought through. That’s the biggest loss to Apple’s software I think. Edge cases are missed. The overall vision often has holes in it, partly because it’s so broad now with multiple device categories paired with years of legacy. It’s a harder problem than ever to manage. I heard many UX/UI people left Apple before the time of iOS 7’s development.

    Steve Jobs was an experienced expert at combining aggressive deadlines with ambitious software (also hardware of course), and I think it’s because he knew software and working with software people so well. Other offerings such as online services he and probably other managers were less versed in, and so products such as Mobile Me weren’t nearly as well executed.

    2 points
    • Nicholas Windsor Howard, over 2 years ago

      Hi, Patrick. As you can read in my opening paragraphs, I don't disagree with you: I am unwilling to claim that Steve Jobs achieved perfect success with every design he presided over. Thank you for linking the Ars Technica review. I had read it before, and I concur with many of Siracusa's points about decreased ease-of-use. Correct me if I am wrong, but it sounds as if you agree with my overarching theme: that OS X's interface quality has declined with the years.

      2 points
      • Patrick SmithPatrick Smith, over 2 years ago (edited over 2 years ago )

        Correct me if I am wrong, but it sounds as if you agree with my overarching theme: that OS X's interface quality has declined with the years.

        What — no! It is so important if you are going to critique something that:

        1. You yourself take constructive criticism on.
        2. You use those same skills you critiqued with to explore other possibilities.
        3. You don’t seemingly make it your top goal to convince others that your original argument is completely sound and still stands.

        You are making multiple arguments:

        1. OS X / macOS’s UI quality has declined.
        2. This is closely tied to the loss of Steve Jobs.
        3. This is related to the move away from skueomorphism.

        My argument in return is:

        1. Not just the UI but the UX has declined, and although related, I think UX is more important. The user experience is more important than whether something is skueomorphic or flat.
        2. This was occurring during the time of Steve Jobs. Excessive skueomorphism was harming not aiding usability.
        3. There has not just been a move away from skueomophism, but a move to more fragile user experiences with Apple software. I don’t agree that one simply caused the other. However, I do believe there are other links. Maybe I’ll have to write an article.

        So please don’t attempt to boil down my points to ‘sounds as if you agree’. It simply dismisses them. I hope you understand why I am a bit cheesed. Looking forward to reading part II.

        2 points
        • Nicholas Windsor Howard, over 2 years ago

          What — no! It is so important if you are going to critique something that:

          One. You yourself take constructive criticism on.

          I eagerly await constructive criticism; I simply failed to understand your initial point.

          Two. You use those same skills you critiqued with to explore other possibilities.

          Again, I am eager to explore other possibilities.

          Three. You don’t seemingly make it your top goal to convince others that your original argument is completely sound and still stands.

          You misrepresent me: that was not by any means my top goal, nor any goal at all. Later in this reply, I will attempt to explain why.

          You are making multiple arguments:

          One. OS X / macOS’s UI quality has declined.

          Yes; that statement correctly represents my argument.

          Two. This is closely tied to the loss of Steve Jobs.

          I intentionally never committed to the argument that Apple under Steve Jobs never had any of the problems I reviewed in my article (because that claim would be false), but I did argue that we could pin many of Apple's early software successes on Steve Jobs. Those are two different arguments, and I only made the second one.

          Three. This is related to the move away from skueomorphism.

          The decline is partly related to the move away from skeuomorphism. But my article never mentions your examples of egregious "decoration," such as Lion's Calendar, Contacts, and Notes apps. I agree that those applications already had sensible interface designs prior to their Lion incarnations (with the exception of Notes, which did not exist on OS X until Mountain Lion), and I see the ways in which the new designs harmed those applications. The designs for Calendar and Contacts, at least, consisted mainly of non-useful visual metaphors. If I never mentioned those examples in my article and I agree with your points about them, how could I be trying to convince you that "my original argument is completely sound and still stands"?

          My argument in return is:

          One. Not just the UI but the UX has declined, and although related, I think UX is more important. The user experience is more important than whether something is skueomorphic or flat.

          "User experience" is not a separate entity from the user interface. One uses the interface and has an experience. So it is impossible for user experience to be "more important." The interface forms the root of the problem.

          Finally, I must stress that "user interface" involves much, much more than a toggle switch between "skeuomorphic and flat" (which, even then, is a false dichotomy; the real grossly simplified debate should be "dimensional vs. flat").

          Two. This was occurring during the time of Steve Jobs. Excessive skueomorphism was harming not aiding usability.

          As I have already illustrated above and in my article, I never argued that Steve Jobs had immaculately clean hands in this matter.

          Three. There has not just been a move away from skueomophism, but a move to more fragile user experiences with Apple software. I don’t agree that one simply caused the other. However, I do believe there are other links. Maybe I’ll have to write an article.

          What do you mean by "fragile user experiences"?

          So please don’t attempt to boil down my points to ‘sounds as if you agree’. It simply dismisses them. I hope you understand why I am a bit cheesed. Looking forward to reading part II.

          I genuinely thought you did agree; I apologize if I wronged you. As I hope I demonstrate with my lengthy replies throughout this thread, I would not like to dismiss anyone's points. I appreciate your eagerness to hear more from me.

          2 points
  • Greg JangGreg Jang, over 2 years ago

    Thank you for the nice read... I don't know if Apple is aesthetically decaying...but like all of us Apple is evolving. I think we are in a stage where agility is mandatory because technology and trend is changing faster every year and skeuomorphism just takes too much time. Too much effort. Inefficient. I guess I'm just lazy but I surely don't want to spend days on a button. Trying to make that perfect glass texture that is reflecting a mini-verse within etc... Sure, us designers actually LOOK at the interface but most users don't care. (In my experience). Even us designers, we might be impressed for the first couple of days but eventually we want to get things done and having the time machine icon look more like a time machine doesn't really help with my interaction. Correctly versioning a set of documents I am looking for helps. Personally I like the new flat design trend. Less time trying to make it look like a perfect glass and more time with flows, functions and layouts... Looking forwards to part 2!

    2 points
    • , over 2 years ago

      Hello, Greg.

      Thank you for the nice read...

      ... Looking forwards to part 2!

      Thank you very much in return for being one of the few civil and kind commenters on Designer News.

      ... skeuomorphism just takes too much time. Too much effort. Inefficient. I guess I'm just lazy but I surely don't want to spend days on a button. Trying to make that perfect glass texture that is reflecting a mini-verse within etc... Sure, us designers actually LOOK at the interface but most users don't care. (In my experience).

      If you have the time and resources (some designers do), why not put in the effort? It is the right thing to do. If we never shoot for true greatness (including aesthetic greatness), what is the point?

      ... having the time machine icon look more like a time machine doesn't really help with my interaction.

      Apple already had that wondrous old icon, and they took extra time to replace it with a lower-effort one. That seems a nonsensical decision to me. The old icon certainly helped with my interaction: it made me feel, as I sat by a Mac, that I was interacting with a machine made by human beings, with personalities, wishes, feelings, desires, preferences, and dreams.

      1 point
      • John PJohn P, over 2 years ago

        that I was interacting with a machine made by human beings, with personalities, wishes, feelings, desires, preferences, and dreams.

        This statement strikes a chord with me. Really not keen on the current movement du jour of "Designers are not artists" and ultimate focus on metric and conversion driven design decisions (the same ideology that brought us the insipid Pintrest and Facebook content blocking sign up forms).

        I'd be the last person to champion iOS6 style skeuomorphism but i feel the flat design trend has also brought this ideology along for the ride.

        1 point
        • , over 2 years ago (edited over 2 years ago )

          This statement strikes a chord with me. Really not keen on the current movement du jour of "Designers are not artists" and ultimate focus on metric and conversion driven design decisions (the same ideology that brought us the insipid Pintrest and Facebook content blocking sign up forms).

          Sometimes I feel very sad and alienated when it seems to me that robots have taken the helm in the discipline of design.

          0 points
          • John PJohn P, over 2 years ago (edited over 2 years ago )

            Think what bothers me the most is how proudly they renounce the input of the designer. Monteiro's "Design is a Job" talk comes to mind.... (I'm sure someone wrote a good critique of this talk but I can't find it)

            Of course I'm not saying all design is art or all designers are artists but really there is more to life than a/b testing on-boarding flows and I just find it a little sad many designers in the digital side seem to be content and smug about doing just that while spouting the ideology of "Working on problems that matter" (hah).

            Thank christ some designers still approach their work like an artistic practice and a conversation with the user rather than just an exercise in building from statistics and for OKRs.

            1 point
  • Robin RaszkaRobin Raszka, over 2 years ago

    Wow, no Medium? Ballsy.

    1 point
  • John PJohn P, over 2 years ago (edited over 2 years ago )

    Nah you see the abstract photos icon works and makes sense because it's an abstract flower and the iOS 6 icon was a sunflower so if you used iOS6 it makes PERFECT SENSE…………………

    Of course I'm being sarcastic. Apple are a fucking joke these days.

    1 point
  • Jay GrantJay Grant, over 2 years ago

    Hi Nicholas. I really wanted to write a post that said "lol" but then I saw that you were actually interested in hearing other opinions and having a conversation about it––and I would have just been rude and mean. While, I disagree with your arguments, I just wanted to say that I really appreciate the civil conversation! Nice job internet.

    In my opinion, I don't think Apple has succeeded with every design choice, but the move away from metaphors is still a step in the right direction. For example, the current photos app icon is a bit silly to me, but the old one with a point and shoot camera and a physical photo is outdated and even more ridiculous. Moreover, can you imagine save button that still used a floppy disk?

    I do like the part where you discuss the removal of color from the Finder's sidebar. I find it significantly more difficult to use without the color, and I would love for Apple's designer to bring the color back. That said, I think Apple would be ecstatic if they could just get rid of Finder altogether and give us an alternative file system––or lack of tradition file system if you will. So perhaps they don't really care about the color here that much.

    1 point
    • Nicholas Windsor Howard, over 2 years ago

      Hello, Grant.

      While, I disagree with your arguments, I just wanted to say that I really appreciate the civil conversation!

      I will always champion civil conversation. Thank you for doing the same.

      In my opinion, I don't think Apple has succeeded with every design choice, but the move away from metaphors is still a step in the right direction. For example, the current photos app icon is a bit silly to me, but the old one with a point and shoot camera and a physical photo is outdated and even more ridiculous. Moreover, can you imagine save button that still used a floppy disk?

      I have a rebuttal to your "floppy disk" argument: whether or not designers like this fact, such symbols as the floppy disk, the stamp or envelope for Mail, or the old-style telephone symbol for iOS's Phone app have accumulated meaning for many, many people over many, many years, and can accumulate new meanings for the young people who have never seen the objects to which they refer. Even if the very young among us did not recognize the reference to an old telephone in the Phone icon (although I would argue they would catch the reference), it would signify something new to them: the app called "Phone." Why would we switch to another, more "of-the-moment" symbol when we already have widely recognized ones capable of absorbing new meanings as they join the digital vocabulary?

      0 points
  • Steven CavinsSteven Cavins, over 2 years ago

    For my part, hands up, I've admitted to myself that a lot of this hand-wringing is simply designers following trends. I've been designing all the way through a few, the skeu and the flat. I never thought "skeu" was philosophically correct, like I don't think "flat" is philosophically correct either. It's super annoying to read mission statements that seem to imply anything is "purer" or "more content focused" than another.

    I don't think of this design thing as a line of evolution, but rather lots of tiny revolutions. It's probably an impossible thing to prove that things are harder to use now than they were then, and as far as I can tell, we haven't yet hit on some timeless "t-shirt and jeans" vibe that will stand the test of time. Aqua looks super dated to me, and Sierra is probably dated on arrival.

    I think we can all probably agree that Apple isn't the prom queen of the design universe anymore, but whether it's because of skeu or flat or whatever, I think that's a really hard thing to deconstruct.

    1 point
    • Nicholas Windsor Howard, over 2 years ago

      Hi, Steven. Thank you for your measured and thoughtful reply.

      It's super annoying to read mission statements that seem to imply anything is "purer" or "more content focused" than another.

      I found this above comment particularly refreshing.

      Aqua looks super dated to me, and Sierra is probably dated on arrival.

      Perhaps Aqua appears dated to you, but why should that matter? I would argue that vapid trendiness, not dated-ness, is the opponent of timelessness.

      0 points
      • Steven CavinsSteven Cavins, over 2 years ago (edited over 2 years ago )

        But do you think Aqua is the "t-shirt & jeans" of UI design or is it, say, on the bottom of a ladder we should be on?

        I sort of disagree that trendiness is inherently vapid though (if that's a point.) A lot of cool stuff comes of it despite the ethereality of it all, and I don't think permanence is necessarily a beacon for the value of things. Does everything have to stand the test of time to actually matter?

        1 point
        • Nicholas Windsor Howard, over 2 years ago (edited over 2 years ago )

          Hmm... perhaps Aqua lives somewhere in the well-tended broom closet with the ladder we should be on. While not as visually simple as a t-shirt and jeans, in my view it looks splendid and holds up exceedingly well. It felt intelligent and aesthetically celebratory. I certainly would not offer any of the same sentiments for Sierra.

          (Clarification: I believe Aqua looked better or more timeless at certain points in its lifetime than at other points.)

          0 points
        • Nicholas Windsor Howard, over 2 years ago

          I don't think permanence is necessarily a beacon for the value of things. Does everything have to stand the test of time to actually matter?

          Not necessarily: I would never rule it out. But timelessness is almost always a lighthouse for my personal ship.

          0 points
    • Nicholas Windsor Howard, over 2 years ago

      If this makes sense to you, I believe Aqua was "cool," while Sierra is "hip."

      0 points