Two early Apple designers have written a piece on Co.Design chastising Apple’s new design direction, which they claim puts elegance and visual simplicity over understandability and ease of use. Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini, who was Apple’s 66th employee and the writer of its first human interface guidelines, and Don Norman, Apple’s user experience architect from 1993 to 1996, aren’t holding back in the least.
“Apple is destroying design,” the duo wrote, calling out their former employer for trading in the fundamental design principles the company once held for a new minimalistic approach. That new approach has manifested in a new font called San Fransisco, which many, including Norman and Tog consider to be too small:
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.
They also criticized Apple for things like not including a universal undo or back button, which is present on Android, having too many “hidden” gesture-based menus, and for pushing visual simplicity over usability testing in its new human interface guidelines for developers.
Good design should be attractive, pleasurable, and wonderful to use. But the wonderfulness of use requires that the device be understandable and forgiving. It must follow the basic psychological principles that give rise to a feeling of understanding, of control, of pleasure. These include discoverability, feedback, proper mapping, appropriate use of constraints, and, of course, the power to undo one’s operations. These are all principles we teach elementary students of interaction design. If Apple were taking the class, it would fail.Norman and Tog state that Apple’s design transgressions go far beyond the font on your phone, given Apple’s vast influence over design culture, stating that Apple’s choices could have reverberations in different industries like infrastructure and health care. “Apple is reinforcing the old, discredited idea that the designer’s sole job is to make things beautiful, even at the expense of providing the right functions, aiding understandability, and ensuring ease of use,” they wrote.
Worse, other companies have followed in Apple’s path, equating design with appearance while forgetting the fundamental principles of good design. As a result, programmers rush to code without understanding the people who will use the products. Designers focus entirely on making it all look pretty. And executives get rid of user experience teams who want to help design the products properly and ensure the products are made usable during the design phase, not after manufacturing, coding, and release, when it is too late. These uninformed company executives assume all this up-front design research, prototyping, and testing clearly must slow down the development process. Nope. When done properly, it speeds things up by catching problems early, before coding even begins.It should be noted that Norman and Tog didn’t limit their design criticism to Apple. They also denounced Google Maps and Android for similar flaws. But when you’re the biggest company in the world selling the most popular smartphone on the planet, the brunt of the blame lands at your feet.
While they do admit that Apple has succeeded at making its devices visually appealing, in their eyes that appeal has damped some potential complaints from users. “The product is beautiful! And fun. As a result, when people have difficulties, they blame themselves. Good for Apple. Bad for the customer.”
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