On native UI

Google rolled out password sync today! Wohoo! They also rolled out a new options page with styled select boxes and push buttons:

chrome_ui_widgets

Looks nice, doesn’t it?

Still, the styling of UI widgets seem to represents a shift in how Google does things. For the longest time, Google has been accused of doing “non-design” — their approach to design being extremely minimalist with little or no styling and whitespace as long as the eye can see. I believe this trend traced way back to the time when Google swayed us from using AltaVista and MetaCrawler; it was the really fast, no-frills search engine that got us the result faster than any of the other search engines.

chrome_passwords

I have been a fierce proponent of keeping UI widgets unstyled. I’ve always tried to adhere to the usability studies done by Jakob Nielsen which suggest that the less UI you have to learn, the better; that if you let your buttons, select-boxes and radio groups stay the way their operating system made them, users will know natively what to expect. But something has changed. I feel it in the water.

The nativity argument was a good one, so what ruined it? Could it be the plethora of nasty advertisements that look like alertboxes? Could it be a new digital age where computers are appliances and moms no longer fear them blowing up when they turn them on? Maybe, simply there are so many apps that only the good ones — the well-designed ones — float to the top? Perhaps Jakob Nielsen was wrong all the time — is it enough that a button looks like a button, for people to confident in what happens when pressing it?

Nah, it’s still good advice. I’ll still take a native app over a non-native one any day of the week, and I still think that unless you know what you’re doing, you shouldn’t style your widgets. As clear as it is that things are no longer like they used to be — lickable buttons be darned — you can’t go wrong with common UI. This is Unix! I know this!

Responses to “On native UI”

  1. James John Malcolm says:

    Jakob Nielsen is slaags wrong. He was against scrolling for goodness sake!

    • Joen says:

      James John Malcolm,

      Come now, don’t be hating on the Jakob.

      The thing about him is that he makes recommendations based on his studies, and he even revises them once in a while. Surely he can’t still be dissing the scrolling?

  2. * is always wrong

    I think he reversed his opinion on scrolling a few years back, but his methodology is (or was) flawed; it seems to have a strong bias towards what his testers are already used to. More importantly, we can’t see how the test was run exactly (questions, etc) or how significant the results were, so we can’t critique it properly.

    Interesting anecdote: http://www.dourish.com/nielsen.html

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