Apple is often hailed as the gold standard for user design. There are a couple of things that they have done very well and then there’s a few really terrible decisions they have made.
Let’s start with the good, because there are a number of Apple designs that I appreciate.
1. Mouse Shake
I’m going to start with a recent update to my operating system, that I discovered quite by accident.
Usually I have a fairly good idea of where my mouse cursor is, but it’s small and does occasionally get lost. When this happens I do what most people do, I shake my mouse. The movement catches my eye and I quickly find it again.
Well, most of the time.
Sometimes if it’s sunny or if the applications I have open on my computer are particularly dark, I’m shaking my mouse for a while before I locate it. That is how I discovered this operating system feature update.
As I shook my mouse trying to locate it on the dark screen, the cursor suddenly grew really large.
This is a pretty elegant solution. It takes the behaviour that already exists and enhances it to make it more effective. This is a decision based in fitting the design to how people work and not the other way around.
2. Elastic Band Windows
Touchscreen devices don’t work perfectly all the time. Sometimes you have to repeat your actions. When scrolling through pages, your swipe motions sometimes don’t register and you have to do them a few times in order to move the page further down.
This can lead to the situation where you are swiping repeatedly because you think the device is not responding, when in fact you’ve just reached the end of a page. I have done this several times on my android tablet.
Enter the elastic band effect. When you reach the bottom of a page and try to scroll further, the screen will scroll further but at a much slower pace. When you let go, it will snap back. Similar to an elastic band.
This helps users differentiate between situations where the system has failed and situations where it hasn’t.
Why Are These Good?
Both these designs are very subtle in their brilliance. They give you the feeling that the device is easy to use, without being able to pinpoint why. This is because they fit so fluidly into your current task.
1. Apple monitor/iMac port placement
When I first got my old iMac in 2006 I thought that the choice of where they put the USB ports was a rushed mistake and that it would be corrected in later models. However, 10 years later the location of these ports still has not changed. I can no longer pretend this was an accident.
The only place where you can plug in your USBs is the worst possible location for the user to get to. In the back. So, congratulations Apple, I can’t think of a single modern computer where this task is as difficult. I physically have to get out of my chair and walk around to the back of the computer to plug anything in. Almost every other device has at least one easily accessible port, usually to the side. Everyone puts one there because it was a good idea.
The thing that really bugs me about this particular design, is after all this time, Apple can’t claim ignorance. Apple knows this is a problem, knows this makes their computers more difficult to use, but chooses to do nothing about it.
Well, at least I don’t have to turn my computer on its side to access the ports. Wait. That reminds me of something…
2. Apple mouse port placement
This is just appalling.
In case you’re not sure of what you’re looking at here. This mouse has a rechargeable battery and the port to recharge it is located at the bottom of the mouse. That is the absolute worst possible place to put this port. You couldn’t have chosen a worse place if you tried.
I’m serious. There are six sides to choose from. Every other side would have been better.
By placing the port here, Apple has made it impossible for users to charge their mouse and use it at the same time. Something that would obviously be wanted.
I understand it’s supposed to charge 9 hours’ worth of battery in 2 minutes. However, I tested this with one of the ones in our office and can say that this is not in fact true. Even if you consider the charge time to be just a minor inconvenience, it’s still an inconvenience that could have been completely avoided.
For a company that wants to minimize the amount of time it takes me to locate my cursor, asking me to spend two minutes staring at my charging mouse is a bit much.
With the original version of the Magic Mouse, it takes less than two minutes to swap the batteries. After that, it doesn’t bug you for another few months. With this mouse it’s going to need charging every day unless you can remember to charge it for a few hours when you’re not using your computer.
This requires the user to change their behaviour. They have to adapt to the system, rather than the system adapting to them.
At this point you might be noticing the similarity between these two issues. It’s a clear cut case of sacrificing usability so that it “looks pretty”. Apple could have modified the design of both these devices to better fit the user’s actions. It really wouldn’t have been that hard or revolutionary. However, the designers choose to force the users to modify their actions to fit the device.
If there’s any lesson to be learned here, it’s that without functionality your designs are just looks minus substance. What makes a product well designed and beautiful is not just it’s visual appeal, it’s the entire experience of using it.
Michelle Brown, is an Experience Architect at Akendi, a firm dedicated to creating intentional experiences through end-to-end experience design. To learn more about Akendi or user experience design, visit www.akendi.com.
Akendi is a product strategy, user experience design and usability research firm. We are passionate about the creation of intentional experiences – whether those involve digital products, physical products, mobile, service or bricks-and-mortar interactions. We work shoulder-to-shoulder to optimize the experiences you deliver. Akendi Corporate Overview (PDF).
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