Nicholas Windsor Howard: The Apple Goes Mushy

Nicholas wrote a well-articulated piece titled ‘The Apple Goes Mushy Part I: OS X’s Interface Decline (Introduction)’ (via. The Loop) that critiques the present OS X1 design. There are a lot of points here to back the criticisms, instead of blandly throwing about the ‘…wouldn’t have happened if Jobs was around’ dialog. It’s definitely worth a read.

While reading, I tried really hard to think of reasons why these points don’t hold, how there’s maybe just that one sliver that’s hiding behind the cracks that Nicholas missed out on, something that justifies Apple’s sacrifice of design in favour of a pleasing aesthetic. I couldn’t. Everything is well-argued and backed with solid examples.

But perhaps there’s a draw here — one in Apple’s favour. Apple’s message of yore — pre-iPhone, when their sales were low — was ‘Our computers are easy for anyone to use.’, fit for attracting new (usually Windows) customers to the Mac. Maybe now it’s shifted to ‘Our computers are instantly familiar and easy to use’, appealing instead to users of Apple products (usually an iPhone) and retaining existing Mac customers.

Nicholas says of the removal of color throughout OS X:

They have greyscaled other, more obscure parts of OS X to harmful effect, and seemingly no one has mentioned these design changes. I intend to do so. Note the color removal on the delete button (which should probably depict a trash can and not a “cancel” symbol, but alas…) in the Image Capture utility:
I use Image Capture regularly and find myself fumbling for the delete button ever since Apple turned it from red to grey. Why did they suck the color away? And I wonder again why the color vanished from almost every sidebar in the system: besides Finder, iTunes, iPhoto (before the new Photos application existed), Mail, and Contacts (back when Apple called it Address Book) have all succumbed to wan insanity. The Menu Bar selections in Final Cut Pro X highlight grey, not blue, when your cursor hovers over them. The majority of system applications greet you with vast canvases of nondescript white. Buttons are white. The Menu Bar is white. The Dock application labels are white. The cumulative effect is exactly the same as almost all popular interface designs today: everything is a stark, harsh, flat, alienating plane of white.

I haven’t used OS X pre-Yosemite so I don’t have a practical grasp of the situation. Nicholas doesn’t bring up the Safari UI in the entirety of his piece. But to make my point, I intend to do so. (Safari is probably the most colorless app I’ve used on OS X; every control is a shade of grey.)

It’s true Safari’s UI could be perplexing to a first-timer. It’s visually minimal, perhaps a little too much. But I think Apple knows this. Because while it may be tough for the new-comer, it’s extremely rewarding for the veteran.

Due to the pervasive gray, Safari is minimal, it’s unobtrusive. As Jony Ive says, it recedes to give way to your content. If The Times of India has a shitty design/aesthetic, it’s Times of India’s fault. If The New Yorker seems to you like the aesthetic equivalent of charming grace and you can’t help but revisit it over and over, it’s The New Yorker’s fault. Safari is just your old friend who got you there and deftly stepped side — appearing again only when you need it to.

Again, I can’t be absolutely certain about this but it may just be that Apple is trading in a lean learning curve for a loyal, rewarding user experience, beneficial in the long-run.

  1. I haven’t referred to OS X as macOS throughout my article because the narrative is about OS X El Capitan and prior releases, not macOS Sierra. ↩︎

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