What I'd Like to See in Tiger: Part 3, A Consistent User Interface

by Hadley Stern

Maybe it's because I'm a graphic designer by training but I like things to be visually consistent.

One of the beautiful things about the original Mac operating system was it visual simplicity and consistency. A window in Macpaint had a similar look and feel (such a funny expression, look and feel!) to a window in the finder.

This consistency was, well, consistent throughout the entire classic operating system. OS X appears to have thrown all that out the window. Now we have some Apple applications with a metallic look and some without. Why does iPhoto get the metallic look and Mail doesn't? Or, even more egregious, within the finder itself some windows are metallic and some aren't. I'd like to see the dartboard at Apple where they figure this stuff out. Actually, I wouldn't.

Consistency in a user interface is a good thing. At a certain point the UI should fade into the background. The early innovators on the Macintosh knew this, Windows copied it, and to see a somewhat scattered interface in OS X is disappointing to say the least. Yes, some of this visual vertigo has to do with the superfluous (albeit beautiful) over-the-top eye-candy in OS X. But a lot of it has to so with interface differences where they are not needed.

Let's hope Tiger cleans up its act and bring the Mac back to the refined interface it was famous for.

Does this aspect of OS X bother you too?


9 Comments

jwenting
2005-03-02 07:08:36
Open Source baby
You're experiencing the beauty of Open Source with its mirriad of choices that application engineers enjoy to make their user interfaces.
No more one style as dictated by a Big Evil Company but a thousand styles (and of course fully skinnable).
applematters.com
2005-03-02 07:10:19
Beauty?
A couple of points. I would actually call it the uglyness of open source if open source were the (excuse the pun) source of the problem.


However in this case open source development has nothing to do with the issue. The UI issues I point out are Apple's and Apple's alone.

jonblock
2005-03-02 11:29:05
Justifying Brushed Metal
For what it's worth, my understanding of Apple's original intent with the "brushed metal" look was that it should be used exclusively for software that is meant to be the electronic equivalent of a real-world device. iTunes is a jukebox, iPhoto is an enhanced digital camera controller, iDVD makes DVDs, GarageBand is a mixing board on steroids, etc. These all get the brushed metal look. Mail only exists as software, as do Word, Excel, System Preferences, etc. So they get the standard appearance.


Granted, the line can be harder to find on some applications, leaving room for confusion when your interpretation differs from the software maker's. More distractingly, some third-party software producers have simply chosen the look that they like better without following Apple's guidelines, which really blurs the distinction.


These distractions are a fair argument against providing the two distinct styles of appearance in the first place. But at least you should be aware of the reasons behind the original decision before casting your vote.

qazwart
2005-03-02 19:12:56
What was wrong with "Lickable?"
I never understood the brushed metal look...


When OS X first came out, Steve Jobs said the Aqua interface "looked so good, it was lickable". Then, brushed metal windows started popping up.


I also noticed that applications with brushed metal windows also don't allow you to freely configure your icon bar. Why did they remove an important interface feature just to have a cool brushed metal look?


At first, we were told that the brushed metal look is for applications that emulate hardware. So why do Safari and Finder have the brushed metal look?


At least give me the option of selecting either the brushed metal or Aqua interface. I use PathFinder instead of Finder, and PathFinder actually gives me the choice. Why can't iTunes, Finder, Quicktime, and Safari give me this option too?

alain_99
2005-03-02 20:34:27
They kill what you want
I agree with you about consistence about UI. But Steve kill a group that Apple had before. This group had to check this consistence about every software and element of the UI. But with the new group that came from Next (Avi Tenevian and others) they change that. Probably they had other focus at that time and not so much money to keep them. But i believe they must take back a group of that kind inside Apple to make a better consistence of that UI thought for me it's not a problem but for a lot of people who do less computer and are more novice.


Alain

k95dl01
2005-03-03 06:25:53
Justifying Brushed Metal
> iTunes is a jukebox, iPhoto is an enhanced digital camera
> controller, iDVD makes DVDs, GarageBand is a mixing board
> on steroids, etc.


And Safari is...

MagnusNystedt
2005-03-03 14:53:04
Small issue...
I don't think the issue of some apps being metallic and some not is a big one. Now, if some apps started having close/minimize/maximize buttons in a different place or with different functionality, I'd think it was worth more attention. What color/pattern/background windows have is of little significance, I think.


//Magnus

mikego
2005-03-03 20:06:07
Consistent User Interface
My pet UI peeve is the behavior of different Apple (and non-Apple) applications when you click on the "close" (red) button. On some applications (most glaringly, System Preferences on OS X), the entire application quits while on most, the application doesn't quit.
aecheylon
2005-03-04 09:51:41
Open Source baby
After seeing yet *another* UI style in the proposed Mail in Tiger, I've been wondering if the multiplicity of UI styles is actually an intentional tactic by Apple to make the platform look more "diverse."


Switchers, after all, are accustomed to applications looking different from one another on Windows, and maybe Apple feels that having a lot of different "looks" makes the platform seem somehow more dynamic.


As a long-time Mac user, I personally don't like it, but what *really* bothers me even more than UI inconsistency is behavioral inconsistency: do you hit delete or apple-delete to remove something from various Apple applications?...do you hit enter or escape when you are done entering information in iCal, Address Book, etc.?, and don't even get me started on the crazy way in which Safari does folders, especially spring-loaded folders, when you're managing bookmarks. There's tons of research that Apple did to develop spring-loaded folders, and the Safari people just "rolled their own," and it drives me crazy everytime I have to edit my bookmarks (even if .Mac synchronization keeps me on Safari and not Firefox...for the time-being at least).


One of the hallmarks of the Mac's consistent UI is that if you've learned how something works in one place, you've learned it everywhere. This is no longer the case as each of Apple's apps handles user input differently. This is really the most serious consequence of inconsistency. Look-and-feel is important, but behavioral consistency isa absolutely *central* to the Mac experience.