With permission from Heilemann, here’s a reposting of a debate we had recently. Michael had shared this on Google Reader:
Icon for the Save button is still a floppy disk, despite the fact that Apple hasn’t sold a machine with a floppy drive for a decade.
That isn’t an interface; that’s a disaster zone.
You’re just a fan of new-app / new-age minimalism. Sure, it’s not nice. But it’s got somewhat discoverable buttons for a plethora of functionality nobody uses.
I think an interface tells a user what it’s for. And yeah, I’m an Apple fan, but that’s because I think Apple’s interfaces get out of the users way and teach them that their applications are for content creation and manipulation, and not as is the case here, about interface interaction.
It is. Ridiculous.
Forget about the mom-scenario, I would be frightened if I opened this, and I would literally have no idea where to start looking. It’t not just the layout, it’s the style and the icons. It looks as native to OS X as Firefox, which is to say not, and has a plethora of obscure mystery-meat-esque icons.
Compare with Pages (http://images.apple.com/lae/iwork/numbers/images/whatsnew-screen-linkedcharts-20090106.jpg), which even when it’s flying all its flags, isn’t nearly as horrible as that.
It hurts me inside.
Pages is a good example of an alternative which I, judging from only screenshots, don’t think is any better at all.
Bear in mind here, I’m doing my thing and playing devils advocate. I’m all Google Docs, even though it’ll probably be another 3 years before that app becomes full featured.
So what I was alluding to, is that the iPhone, iPad and Android platforms herald an exciting new era in which we throw down the shackles of legacy and start anew. On an operating system and application level. I don’t even remember what iWorks on the iPad looks like, but I’m assuming it’s way cleaner than Pages (and certainly Word). Because it’s a writing app how it’s built if we started today. Which Word is not.
Now legacy is an interesting word. In this situation, legacy refers not only to the Microsoft way of supporting every operating system they’ve ever made with their apps, or even including and still using 20 year old code in their applications. No, legacy also refers to the userbase Microsoft is scared of alienating. The very same user base that use Word Art, templates, Comic Sans and that clip art image of a martini glass with fireworks in the background. Both Microsoft and its consumers believe they won’t buy an app that removes features.
So what I’m thinking, kinda defending this interface as not ridiculous or a disaster zone, is that it’s been a bitch for the interface designers, having to add new features, tuck in ALL the old ones, and still make a somewhat userfriendly interface. This compromise sucks like all the Words suck, but it doesn’t suck ridiculously.
Okay so we can split hairs whether “undo and redo” deserve such prominent positions, or positions at all. And you’d probably win the discussion.
But do you see my point?
It’s always possible to defend MS’s position from a pragmatic standpoint. But that doesn’t make it any less confusing or solve the fact that most of the interface cruft won’t come into play for most people more than a fraction of the time; if at all. It’s like they decided to not take any decisions on what to include and what to hide away.
Well I’m not so much defending it, as saying that it’s not a disaster zone. Sure, it could be better, but so could Photoshop. Photoshop is a good example, actually — quite a few people use quite a lot of the features, and even more use nearly none of the features.
How would you tackle Photoshop? I actually consider that a disaster zone.
Well Adobe put out Photoshop Elements, so I guess they acknowledge that a pro+level application isn’t necessarily needed by our moms. Essentially PS has the same problem as Word, which is that it tries to be everything to everyone. Personally I’d either split it into two products (saaaaay iPhoto vs. Aperture or iMovie vs. Final Cut Pro) or at least let the user pick basic or advanced on first open.
I just don’t understand why ‘glowing text’ is an option you want to give as much attention as font size. How often have you used glowing text? Most people will never use it, except of course because it happens to be right there, which is going back to what I mean by the UI teaching the user things they shouldn’t be learning. It’s like having a ‘Comic Sansify’ button in the UI; it’s good for one in a million users, but it hardly needs its own button.
That’s the thing. Part of me thinks splitting Photoshop (or Word for that matter) in to “basic” and “advanced” versions is a usability and interface design cop-out. Sure I’m not presenting any other options here, but ideally there’s another way.
I agree with the rest of what you have to say.
It’s like shipping a car that is both a sedan and a (small) construction crane; you can do it, but why do you want to? Except in the case of software it’s ‘easy’ to ship one product that serves two masters just as easily as one.
In fact, Photoshop already does this. Go to Window > Workspace, and you can choose the interface profile that works best for what you do…
Alright then. You win this round.