Great design creates new data.

Scott Stevenson writes:

Visual design is often the polar opposite of engineering: trading hard edges for subjective decisions based on gut feelings and personal experiences. It’s messy, unpredictable, and notoriously hard to measure. The apparently erratic behavior of artists drives engineers bananas. Their decisions seem arbitrary and risk everything with no guaranteed benefit.

An experienced designer knows that humans do not operate solely on reason and logic. They’re heavily influenced by emotions and perceptions. Even more frustratingly, they often lie to you about their reactions because they don’t want to be seen as imperfect.

and in the comments are some more excellent soundbites

Rob Morris writes:

…exceptional design has ideals, integrity and vision. It listens and is informed by its users, but sometimes more importantly, it knows better.

Doug writes:

Great design creates new data. Design is creative, not reactive

Two weeks ago I met Jonathan Ive. Ive is SVP of Industrial Design at Apple. He’s credited with some of Apple’s design triumphs: the eMate, the iBook, the iMac, PowerBook G4, iPod, iPhone, Mac mini and a raft of others. He said his team is small but they’ve been working together for a very long time now – something that affords great understanding between them. Ive seems a quiet and humble bloke, but his presence and passion were able to shine through in the brief meeting – his volume increasing as he became more passionate about the subject. This bloke, from the same part of the country as David Beckham, was voted by the Daily Telegraph as being more influential than Beckham (which probably says more about how out of touch famous footballers are with the rank and file).

I love how some of the designs I like inspire strong feelings in myself and others. Exceptional design should inspire polarity of thought – you should be in love with it or hate it – it should, by it’s very name, be an exception. This is subtly different from ‘the most usable design’ of course, which should slot into your own user model so easily that you barely notice it. Great design in interfaces can also polarise but even the worst reaction should acknowledge the attention to detail in the user model. This is something that, again, Apple does well. It’s always been a medium where Apple has changed things incrementally and when they have perhaps taken a step backwards (like Mac OS X Public Beta) it was most definitely a ‘girding of our loins’, a ‘hitching of our skirts’ so we could better witness and experience the changes going forward.

0 thoughts on “Great design creates new data.”

  1. As you know, I’ve been an Apple user (and fan) for a long time.

    I initially dismissed OSX, it really wasn’t ready for prime time until 10.3, in my opinion.

    However, there does seem to be some ‘fuzziness’ at Apple with regards UI/UX. The great example is how they keep tinkering with the UI, but release it in only some products, leaving the Finder and other products lagging behind. They do seem to be making some progress with this regard, and Snow Leopard, and it’s rumoured new UI may well finally achieve coherence across product base (sans pro apps).

    I’m also sad that some of the great UI features from OS9 have never made it to OSX. I don’t know if there was great design decisions at work, or if things just got missed? (For better or worse, I loved pop-up windows at the bottom of my screen, and no stacks are not ‘it’ — windowshade was also a big favourite, but I’ll live)

    They’ve also introduced some ‘new’ UI features which I don’t think make sense, like the ‘traffic lights’ on the windows. The ‘green’ button and it’s contextual operation is so confusing to new users. I wish they would make it customisable (always maximise/fit to display, or even windowshade!!)

    On a side note re: backward steps, someone was ‘big-ing up’ Voice print password tech in Windows 7 recently on the web. I remember that being in OS9, and using it frequently. (The main problem was your voice changes every 3 weeks or so, so you have to re-train the system all the time) I thought it worked fairly well, but another one of the Copland features to die with NeXT OS

  2. THING ENGINEERING

    I think with the advent of the iPhone, user interface design is really entering a new era. Sure, Mac software – good mac software – has always looked great. But now in order for an iPhone app to be a hit it needs to look awesome.

    It needs to work, sure, but it needs to LOOK and FEEL like something you actively want to use. Not just buttons and menus, but something that produces a positive emotional reaction – like the iPod itself does. Something that makes you go “ooo.. I want that..”

    This is due to many things: but the personal nature of an iPhone is key amongst them. You carry this device with you all the time, touch it a lot, whisper into it. It needs to look cool and you want it to reflect partly your personality, and partly what you want your personality to be perceived as being.

    Think of it this way: is it possible for an ordinary person to build a small box that fits into a pocket, and which does something very specific, but also has phone features and internet connectivity, and looks kick-ass gorgeous? And sell it to people by the million? No, of course not. But when you write a gorgeous application for the iPhone, you have effectively created a BRAND NEW GADGET. You HAVE made the hardware, because it’s now doing what you want it to do. You have made a brand new THING and you can sell it for $1. Isn’t that extraordinary?

    The more an application helps create this perception of ‘iPhone as New Shiny Thing”, the stronger and more popular the application will be. It doesn’t have to be done in the now cliched creation of a photorealistic skin (e.g. a TV remote control app looks like a real remote control), but it needs a consistent design and aesthetic that doesn’t break the illusion that this is a New Thing.

    This is why Windows Mobile software – which still popular and profitable for many – is still an order of magnitude (or more) less popular and profitable than the best iPhone software. It’s merely a collection of buttons and menus that do things. It’s software. It’s not a thing of beauty: the coming together of art, and vision and passion and technology. It’s not THING ENGINEERING.

    Ok. Now I need to lie down for a bit.

  3. @Gaz – I think overall the UI has moved forwards. I was never a fan of pop-up windows and my attachment to Windowshade was a ‘learned’ behaviour rather than any secret UI wizardry. I do miss the control strip though, for the most part, it has morphed into hardware buttons.

    I’m less concerned with inconsistency in the apps and UI in terms of the differences between Pro Apps and UI in the Finder, etc. We need to be able to discern the differences between apps and Mac OS 9 was accused of being flat and boring which, looking back, I can see why.

    Voice print. Ugh. Fine if you sit alone in an office but oral communication with your computer should be relegated simply to berating it when the Internet is down.

    @John – Steven’s Creek Software shows that you can make a sows ear out of a silk purse.

    I am reminded of: ITSS – “It’s the Software, Stupid” which was a battlecry when I was in my Nortel days and people droned on about why, when I had the choice of Windows NT4 on a laptop, HPUX on a desktop and Solaris on a server, I continued to use Mac OS X.

  4. I think with the advent of the “3d” dock, and given some patents, Apple will produce some kind of “layering” into the UI soon.

    The reason I liked windowshade was I could do what (f11) does with the mouse, if I try that now, I have to move the mouse to the bottom of the screen to recover my window.

    I think the next step for Apple is moving the keyboard and trackpad into a multi-touch display. Like the ultra-expensive OLED keyboards, except the whole thing is a display – a contextual input device – i.e. photoshop “keys” displayed in photoshop, final cut ‘keys’ in final cut.

    Of course, there will be lots of complaints about tactile feedback, but Apple already has ‘auto-correction’ software in OSXiPhone. It is a logical step, and would make the desktop OS much closer to iPhone OS.

  5. I don’t honestly think that OLED keyboards are the answer but certainly there’s wiggle room in what is currently the trackpad and screen. Visual and haptic feedback in the trackpad would be nice.

    Apple has been moving us more and more into Layered/3D UI as time goes on. We have effective drop shadows, 3D Dock, Expose (which doesn’t change the view of apps except to make them “far away”). this is the reason for resolution independence – Depth is the axis we’re underusing (which is daft).

    F11 is a volume control here 🙂

  6. I agree about OLED keyboards, over priced, but imagine a touch screen where your keyboard and trackpad is.

    The touch display changes dependant on what you are doing, typing – it has a keyboard, rotating an image – works like a scroll wheel, in final cut – displays a final cut ‘keyboard’ and jogdial, etc etc.

    Time machine is the first ui to use depth. I don’t think it’s that great an implementation and not really suitable in that form for any other applications, but it is getting closer….

    (and f11 is “view desktop” on my internal keyboard and attached white usb keyboard 😀 although the keyboard does have f14,15,16 which I’ve never seen anywhere else!)

  7. I can imagine it but I like keys – I think more can be done – and I don’t think the keyboard is going away anytime soon.

    The Window Manager in Mac OS X uses Depth. Again, you see it every time you use Expose.

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