The second coming of UI object realism

03Mar10

I finally got around to reading the iPad Human Interface Guidelines. I am of course impressed by Apple’s dedication to producing interface guidelines for its community of developers and designers that are clear and straightforward. I’m also impressed at the thought Apple has put toward how the iPad experience should be deliberately different than an iPhone experience, even though the UX of both are generally similar.

However, a few notes of concern:

I’m apprehensive about the repeated emphasis on making UI ojects “look more realistic”

This comes up repeatedly throughout the doc. Apple is really pushing the idea of making interface elements look realistic, look exactly like what a similar object would look like in the real world. For instance:

“…on iPad, Contacts is an address book with a beautifully tangible look and feel.” p. 17

Further, pics of the iPad have been making the rounds showing a wood-grained bookcase, and a calendar with wire bindings.

You can almost caress the wood.

Nice flip calendar

So what’s wrong with a little realism?

Well, at its worst, emphasizing photorealistic UI objects can lead to a cheeseball bonanza of 3D, spinning, and blinking objects, harking back to the day of mid-’90s CD-ROMsĀ  where that stuff was everywhere (yes, I’m old).

More importantly, it’s a long-standing tenet of UI design to emphasize minialist design, removing as much as you can from the UI until you are left with only what you need to communicate actions and affordances to your users. Extra noise in the UI is just that….extra noise that makes it harder to see the what you, the user, need to manipulate to get something done.

Now, to be fair, Apple does say that it’s more about adding “realistic touches” to your UI, and “don’t feel you must strive for scrupulous accuracy.” Still, I must say I frankly find that bookcase up above pretty ugly and hokey, and the insertion of realistic elements into UIs introduces more risk in terms of creating a UI that simply disagrees with a user’s aesthetic tastes, let alone, possibly, making things harder to use.

I’ll post a few more kvetches in the days ahead. I’d be curious to read your reactions….let ‘em rip.

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One Response to “The second coming of UI object realism”

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