UX Steel Cage Match

The title of today’s article is admittedly overstated. Not as clickbait, but to point to the larger message of the topic I want to share with you and get your opinion.

If you haven’t seen it, Don Norman co-wrote an article in Fast Company decrying the collapse of Apple’s commitment to usable design. Then Anthony Franco (from UX Magazine) pilloried him in a Pulse piece on LinkedIn.

No more. Now, although the products are indeed even more beautiful than before, that beauty has come at a great price. Gone are the fundamental principles of good design: discoverability, feedback, recovery, and so on. Instead, Apple has, in striving for beauty, created fonts that are so small or thin, coupled with low contrast, that they are difficult or impossible for many people with normal vision to read. We have obscure gestures that are beyond even the developer’s ability to remember. We have great features that most people don’t realize exist.

My Take

The first disagreement comes from Norman’s claim that Apple used to design interfaces that were discoverable, transparent, and unambiguous. Franco counters that Apple’s “bluid was never sae reid” (Sorry, I love when an olde tyme poetry quote fits a modern design debate). They weren’t so great as much as the competition was just so deficient. I have to agree with Franco on this one.

The second disagreement comes from Norman’s claim that the gestural interface that Apple revolutionized is a huge step backwards in usability. Franco agrees they take some learning, but they are not nearly as hard as Norman claims. No harder than keyboard shortcuts. Meanwhile, the value they add make them well worth the effort. Here I have to agree with Norman. I am a reasonably insightful tech user and I use keyboard shortcuts all the time. And yet I still have trouble with the gestural interface model.

The third disagreement comes from Norman’s observation that Apple has led the entire industry down the slippery slope of aesthetics over usability in their design philosophies. Franco doesn’t believe this is happening by looking at his experience with design teams. But looking at the designs out there, I have to agree with Norman again.

Finally, Franco takes issue with the self-serving way Norman has framed much of his article. It seems to him like a combination of sour grapes and desire to sell more books. I am not going to step on that manure, but it did remind me of this from last week’s Ohio State football post-game press conference when their star running back threw the coach under the bus after their loss to Michigan State.

Your Turn

Are you an Apple fanboy, an Apple hater, or an impartial observer? What do you think about this particular dispute? Or more generally about having these kinds of debates in the design field?

Image Credit: kaboompics.com

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