When it comes to user interface design, for software or the Web, is there such a thing as too clean? I’m a big advocate of designing for the bottom line, of building sites that are usable by the least common denominator among a client’s users, but this is a concern that cuts both ways. If your interface design and user experience are too complex some won’t get where they need to go; likewise if the design is too simple or elegant. The solution, the balance, is where you find it in your work and in your usability testing, but none of us are immune to the aforementioned pitfalls.
Even Apple stumbles from time to time… and believe me I hate to pick on them in their time of collective bereavement. Take GarageBand, for example. A reasonably fully-featured application hidden behind as elegant a user interface as I’ve ever seen. And I mean hidden. You just know the feature you need is there… You just might not be able to find it at any given moment. Worse still, there are inconsistencies. Take the screenshots, below.
Note the “Monitor” function in the version to the right. This is a key function, without which you would not be able to hear your instrument (in this case a guitar). The only way to find this function is by double clicking on the picture of the amplifier in the instruments normal state, picture to the left. This is made inconsistent and doubly confusing given the fact that this same feature is easily visible without any clicks of the mouse if the instrument track is added in a different way. Anyone who had seen it before (as I had) is likely to be drive half-mad looking for menu options, contextual menus, anything, before they find it or, worse still, give up. There are other similar examples I came up with in the same application, but this will suffice for a quick post.
GarageBand. Great app? Sure. Elegant interface? Absolutely. Too elegant, with critical bits tucked perhaps a bit too neatly away behind unlabeled features? You be the judge.