In Defense of Burnt Aqua

Ever since Apple released iTunes 5 yesterday, it seems like every blogger has taken the opportunity to jump on his or her high horse and complain about how the look of the application is a departure from Apple's Human Interface Guidelines. "Why do you torture us so?" they ask, as if having to face one more application whose windows don't look like all of the other windows was going to make them cry. It's seriously getting out of control how much is being made of this.

The argument goes, I guess, that if Apple goes and changes the look of every application, that "the HIG will have no meaning," and that once Apple sees fit to change the look of each application, it's a slippery slope to the point when developers, encouraged by their loose interpretation of the HIG, will head out and use, willy nilly, whichever design suits their fancy. Which would result in usability being damaged for the average user, who apparently gets confused when applications look different.

Can I just say, I don't mind at all that they look different? I realized this looking at the screenshot posted over at Ditto. It's supposed to show just how insane it is that there are so many different looks for windows, but when I saw it, the thing that occurred to me was, "That's really cool." Each application has its own look, which is logical, considering they all do different things. Why should an internet browser look exactly the same as music editing software? Don't designers try to use familiar physical metaphors, like buttons and desktops? So shouldn't the look of their app be tailored to fit what it does? Are all these rhetorical questions bothering you yet?

The key, I think, is that they share the same visual cues for the functionality that is the same between them. It is confusing when some applications quit when you close a window, and others don't. It would certainly be a problem if the little buttons for closing or minimizing a window started to look different. But if all of the applications behave in the same way, then it's not obnoxious to me at all that they look different. In fact, I like being able to pick my Mail.app window out of out of a cluttered stack of windows. If they all looked the same, I'd have to really look at it to know that it wasn't iTunes or Safari. I can see just a little corner of my GarageBand window peeking out from behind all of my other windows, and I still know it's GarageBand. That seems to me to be a pretty good (and useful) accomplishment.

As for the threat of developers who don't know anything about design suddenly feeling liberated to throw together bizarre, unusable applications, their apps always looked like butt. They were ugly in aqua. That's why nobody uses them. So let's stop complaining about apps that look good.


Blogger Jeremy Bickerstaffe said...

I think you've hit the nail on the head there - applications looking different is fine, applications behaving differently is what drives one nuts.


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