UseableArt : Information + Design

Why Apple Gets it Right [user experience]

Sure, I’m an unabashed Apple Evangelist. I’ve been taking crap for this from friends and wives alike for decades. At best, I’ve been called an “apologist”. At worst, a “sycophant”. (Actually that’s not the worst… the worst is unfit for print, and shall not be published here). I’ve been a fan since my college days in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and I make no bones about it. But then again, I don’t have to. There is a simple explanation for my fandom, and it boils down to a single, simple sentence:

Simplicity and Elegance of User Experience.

There is a reason that their designs have been copied with varying (though usually limited) degrees of success, for decades. And there is a reason that their emulators continue to fall short. Simplicity does not mean ugly, though far too many of their would-be copyright infringers focus on duplicating the beauty and elegance of Apple’s interfaces at the expense of ease of use. And user experience does not mean bells and whistles, though Apple’s interfaces certainly don’t suffer from a lack of eye candy. But no matter how hard one tries, if you’re not getting your user to what they want with a minimum of fuss, clicks, “wizards”, pop-ups, and “helper” screens… You’re going to fail. Even when Apple’s stock price was $13 a share back in the mid-90’s, and my IT cohorts were laughing at my evangelism, it was an easy thing to see that it was only a matter of time before ease and elegance of use would trump all else. And, in the end, it has. Take the Apple Web site, for example:

Nothing complicated there. Message delivered, and received. Have an idea where you want to go? It couldn’t be easier to get there. It is simplicity itself, and it has struck a balance with elegance that is, to say the least, rare. Now take a look at the iPad:

I myself used to beef that it was a “glorified Kindle”, or an “oversized iPhone”. One friend even referred to it as the “MaxiPad”. But one touch of finger to screen shows exactly why Apple didn’t rush a tablet to market like the rest of the industry. Patience and perfection of the user interface would trump those who made it to market first. And within months of its release it was not only a household name, but on the Christmas and Hanukkah wish lists of millions of children and adults worldwide.

I’ll end with a brief story illustrating my point. At some point in the early nineties, a Windows machine (its brand shall remain nameless) was given to an experienced IT tech, while a brand new Mac was given to a five year old child. They were asked to open the boxes and assemble their respective machines as quickly as possible. When the computer journalist conducting the experiment finally stopped the clock, the five year old had the Mac up and running a full ten minutes before the IT technician.

Lesson learned? Give the people what they want: simplicity and elegance in the user experience. This applies to Web sites, cell phones, storefront operations… It is a universal principle. Ignore it at your own peril.

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Andrew Wallerstein’s Personal Site

This entry was published on November 29, 2010 at 9:59 pm and is filed under apple computer, information design, interface design, ipad, iphone, usability, user experience, user interface. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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