Obviously, the majority of computer users aren't toddlers, but I think there's a lesson here. I really miss the old Windows 3.1 / 95 / 98 days when controls were more or less standardized and you could reliably tell which were buttons, which were radio buttons, which were okay buttons, etc.
Also: tooltip help when you hover over an icon.
Also: menus (for discoverability)
Also: manuals/help files (yep, most software shoudn't need one, but now we are in a worst-of-all-state: new software is not self explanatory, doesn't use familiar designs and the manual is gone :-/)
If something looks like a button and they try to push it, is because in real life buttons have a certain look and feel.
But I'm pretty certain that if you teach them at an early age to discern what does what in a flat UI, they'll have no problem switching from one UI to the other (I actually learned _from her_ that in the Android YT app you can swipe those pesky lower right corner videos to make them go away).
And we're still to try flat in real life ;)
Plenty of appliances have electronic buttons, which are close to flat (though definitely not flat) and commonly paired with a flat visual style on top of them. They work pretty well, in that context.
And now plenty of appliances have capacitive controls, which are in my experience normally a disaster and literally never good (I exclude situations where a screen is involved; those are hit and miss). To take an example, microwaves: almost without fail, I find that the newer it is, the harder it is to use—though the old dials were only easier to use in certain ways, lacking precision. I now have one with a capacitive touch surface, and it’s very hard to use unless the room is brightly lit, at which point is’s merely quite painful unless I want to turn it on for exactly 30 seconds.
Decide for yourself whether these things are “real life”.
But I think that analogy falls short in one major way, which is that these buttons are logically grouped and evenly spaced across a surface that consists of _nothing but_ buttons. If there's silkscreened text there, you can press it and do something. The visual display of information happens in an LED display set aside in a well-defined area, so things to look at and things to press are 100% clearly delineated. In a desktop/mobile/web app, where content and interactive elements are interspersed, you lose that obvious context clue. That inevitably adds cognitive load, even if the interface is still technically usable.
Not only do they not work, no only do they sometimes trigger adjacent controls, but to get function back I now have to dry both my hands and the control surface.
I will never purchase a kitchen device with capacitative controls, but I run into them enough when traveling to experience this frequently. It's a mess.
The buttons are capacitive but they're very responsive and it's easy to wipe down.
Old microwaves had a clear, directional knob with a start point, an end point, and markings for the values they represented. Barring the question of precision (which could be more or less solved with a more strikingly non-linear dial), that’s positively superb. My ideal microwave has only the following controls: such a dial (you could do some pretty fancy active magnetic design on it to improve it and make it precise, over the old knobs), probably another dial or slider (I’m open to trying it out) for power level, and that’s it. I’d be willing to discuss a +30s start button which moved the knob into the right place for you, and some sort of digital timer for potentially easier reading from a distance. No start button or stop button or open button, because the door opening and closing is better than the old microwaves.
Now it is possible for an unanchored knob to be good; I have in mind a tuning knob from a fairly expensive radio from fifty or more years ago, where they had clearly put a lot of effort into its friction profile. But I’ve never seen such a thing in the digital age, only ever in the analogue world. (Hmm… I wonder whether sound boards count. They may be an exception.) In the digital age, knobs are normally just glorified less/more buttons with very coarse quantisation.
My microwave is similar to yours, but a cheaper model, with most notably a capacitive touch strip instead of the knob; it’s awful.
Sometimes I twist the knob until the display shows the desired time—in this respect it works like an iPod.
And when I want to defrost bread, I know it's Defrost program 4. Or if I want something else, the list of programs is helpfully silk-screened behind the door.
Maybe my expectations are low, having owned a Panasonic for the previous 9 years. But I'm genuinely happy with it. It works for me.
(I did see the capacitive touch strip model and actively avoided it. I knew I'd hate it without even trying it.)
As a silly example, I just opened the Google Maps app. Basically everything is clickable or swipable, but there is no visual consistency whatsoever. I suppose “everything is a control” is a viable model, but it breaks down if you want to show content, too.
You could say the same for early iOS apps that just used the default Apple widgets and style. I think ~every app I use know has its own style.
Funny enough, this is less true on computers. Except games.
It's often ludicrously bad.
It turns out the same types of optimizations that you make on a landing page are good UI/UX features for past-middle-aged people to use. Computers don't have to be hard, we just put everything on the screen and have the user sort through what each thing does and whether it's in or out of context for the current action.
Especially with landing pages I aim for the 'mum' test. She's in her 60s and is petrified of computers. If someone like her understands what has to be done / the messaging is clear / the flow of the page directs her to do what I want, it'll probably be a success.
Anecdotally I remember being on a call with my dad (in his 60s) trying to talk him through downloading and installing some antivirus software from download.com (or whatever it was back a few years back). Frustratingly it kept going wrong - "I'm pressing to the download button, but it's just not working!" Except he wasn't. Eventually we figured out he was clicking a banner ad because it "looked like a button," far more so than the flat, actual download button. On a site like that, I often wonder whether it's entirely by design. Happy advertisers get more clicks (albeit probably with shitty conversion), happy site owners get to charge more knowing they provide more clicks. Everyone wins. Except my 65 year old dad.
Most certainly yes. In fact, recognition of "false download buttons", and almost instinctively and subconsciously ignoring them in the same manner as banner ads, comes with experience such that there have been times when I've been confused by pages where the real download button looks exactly like the bloated fake ones that I've become accustomed to mentally filtering out. I find that when I'm looking to download something, I tend to go towards direct links that actually show a destination URL when you over over them, vs. buttons that don't.
Implementation would be interesting and most likely quite hard to achieve, though.
Having worked on a number of platforms (MVS, CMS, VMS, Unix, plus the usual desktop kit), I'd come to recognise signatures of those platforms. Under Unix, recognising the original X11 Xt, Athena, Motif, Tcl/Tk, gtk, Qt, Java, and Gnome toolkits is largely second nature.
No, all applications don't look and behave the same. (Xt scrollbars FTFW!!!).
But: if you do recognise the toolkits, you've got a pretty good idea of the provenance of the application, and how it's going to behave and what quirks it will have. At least up to a point.
I do still prefer button-resembling-buttons.
Notably, NNG uses a more 'real world' methodology, testing realistic user tasks in browsing websites. For the unfamiliar, 'Nielsen' is Jakob Nielsen, an authority on usability, working and writing on it for two decades now, and he's a big advocate of usability testing in design process. (BTW, “Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity” of his is an excellent writeup on how websites should function—I'd bet it's as valuable today as it was in mid-2000s for me, because the functioning of humans doesn't change.)
They also noted that flat design has made some steps back to the immediate recognition of the olde pseudo-3d interfaces, notably with 'Material design': https://www.nngroup.com/articles/flat-design/ But not many steps.
This is what I see when I look at the web (+Electron) today: https://www.google.com/search?q=modern+architecture&tbm=isch https://www.google.com/search?q=brutalist+architecture&tbm=i...
This is what I would prefer to see:
Designers! Fcking stop and think what you're doing if you change designs that have worked for many decades!
There is also a great tendency for modern architecture to be selected purely based on looks, which produces all kinds of strange anti-egonomic disasters. Libraries that echo. Office blocks that focus the sun onto random burning spots on the street.
Then there's the effect of anti-ornamentation on the human psyche. I seem to remember that one of the modernist car parks in Britain was demolished partly because too many people were committing suicide from it.
except in UIs it was not reduntant because visible contours was a deliberately added functional component to take advantage of our (very fast) depth-perception capabilities. The equivalent in architecture would be to remove handles from doors
> Eisenman took his duty to create “disharmony” seriously: one Eisenman-designed house so departed from the normal concept of a house that its owners actually wrote an entire book about the difficulties they experienced trying to live in it. For example, Eisenman split the master bedroom in two so the couple could not sleep together, installed a precarious staircase without a handrail, and initially refused to include bathrooms. In his violent opposition to the very idea that a real human being might actually attempt to live (and crap, and have sex) in one of his houses, Eisenman recalls the self-important German architect from Evelyn Waugh’s novel Decline and Fall, who becomes exasperated the need to include a staircase between floors: “Why can’t the creatures stay in one place? The problem of architecture is the problem of all art: the elimination of the human element from the consideration of form. The only perfect building must be the factory, because that is built to house machines, not men.”
When designed the architects probably weren't paid to mess about putting in useless impractical things, because these were workplaces.
For example, the buildings on Chicago's Printers Row (From 525 S. Dearborn south)
There's no need to go overboard with ornamentation when you just want to get away from concrete. And notably, modern web and app design turned into a continuation of current publishing design—which played with geometric Swiss layouts for a while back then but left them behind, just borrowing good ideas.
Guess some people actually like those forms, if you dress them up properly.
The difference on the icon results were particularly large and convincing, and if you look at their example icon stimuli, clearly the flat icons are simpler (as expected) and presented with more margins (perhaps also as expected in flat design), but that also means to get the same number of icons on screen, the icons were smaller.
I think it's at least worth considering whether that might explain a large part of the difference.
Another limitation is that tiny and non-diverse sample size, and the fact that it's a few years old. They had just 20 students, almost all male, Russian university-student-aged - it's just not a huge or diverse sample; and the experiment was run in 2014; people have a few more years of flat design expectations under their belts now.
Looks pretty decent, those results, but I still think it's a little early to draw solid conclusions based on this alone.
Here's another that effectively finds no significant differences, while subjects perceived flat design as more usable (although full text isn't available so I'm not sure about the methods): https://www.researchgate.net/publication/325563195_A_Compara...
Caveat - this is just from a quick search through studies that cited the linked article. There may be more robust studies around.
"Flat" design was a natural response to the endless bevels. Which, was also taken to an extreme. iOS 7 was, imo, the worst representation of this. The icons, the palette, and especially the entirely-too-thin font weights were all awful.
I think a flat base design, with dimension added in appropriate areas is a happy medium for GUI's. I'm still on MacOs 10.12.6, which I think represents this pretty well. As does the the Material Design widgets. Even if I think they're a little boring stock.
The trouble is UI and UX stopped being anything about productivity and became simply empty fashion.
iOS 6 was an excess of 3D shine and starburst effects, and skeuomorphism excess like news looking like a set of library or newsagent shelves. Mitigate some of that and the UI would have been lovely. And finished.
Since iOS 7 the excess flatness detracts from usability and discoverability. I still feel the camera icon looks annoying wrong and bland, as do settings, photos, calendar, passbook, compass, safari. Games and Passbook are determinedly unrepresentative of anything at all, just random blobs of colour conveying nothing at all.
Still, on the plus side MacOS and iOS have not followed through with the excess of bland extreme flatness that is Windows 10. That still seems to want to push the propaganda of a phone GUI on the desktop that started in 8. Several years of regular use and I still hate it at every touch. Even adding every tweak I can find to make it more like 7 and it's still a significant step back from 7, and two headed in typically Windows fashion in that settings are partly in apps partly in old control panel. Usually control panel is required for basics that for some reason aren't felt necessary to allow configuration of any more. Never a complete transition from one to other.
After all this progress? I find the app based settings worse in every respect, and perfectly typifies the ethos. Fixing a ton of things that were not, in any respect, broken. I guess they knew that or they'd have continued to permit theming. :)
Apple should just revert HEAD to the iOS 6/OS X 10.6 branches and back-port any bug fixes. Almost all of the last near-decade of work in UIs has been a mistake.
You keep saying this, and it's just not true. The extreme skeuomorphism in the older iOS versions was just as maligned as flat design is today. I wouldn't mind adding some more shading to buttons to make them more easily identifiable, but let's leave the cheesy leather textures in the Calendar app dead and buried, please.
I'm not a fan of the Windows 95-era design either. As an example that comes to mind, traditional menus have atrocious usability. Ribbon-like interfaces that feature actual buttons you can click or tap on, with more important buttons larger and/or highlighted, have been a huge improvement over trying to wade through a sea of identical-looking pull-downs full of text. It's important to remember that the move away from pull-down menus was informed by a good deal of end-user research, a lot more than this article.
Regarding iOS, I'd like to see this study try modern UI fonts like San Francisco. There's a reason why Apple, Google, and Microsoft invested in new fonts, and that's because faces such as Helvetica (which, by the way, was used in iOS 6) that weren't designed for screens are harder to read.
I completely disagree. Being a list with each item on a line, regularly spaced, a menu is easy to read. Humans have been reading lines of text for a long time outside of computers, so they're quite skilled at it. The buttons on a ribbon change appearance and position depending on the width of the window, and the barrage of icons makes for difficult skimming. It's essentially visual overload.
("A picture is worth a thousand words. However, sometimes you don't want a thousand words when one or two is enough.")
It's important to remember that the move away from pull-down menus was informed by a good deal of end-user research, a lot more than this article.
The problem is that those who participate in such research are unlikely to represent the majority of the userbase. It's unfortunate, but those who have seen calls for such studies and then thought to themselves, "I have better things to do with my time" will understand this completely.
That's not even getting into the fact that it consumes a ridiculous, and I mean simply ridiculous amount of space.
I feel like every recent step "forward" in UI is just an attempt to make useful features harder to find, make useless buttons bigger while simultaneously making them harder to identify as buttons, and reducing the actual active input space to the bare minimum. MS Office and gmail started a race to minimize input space a couple years back and now it seems to be spreading everywhere. What used to be nice, full screens of input and being able to visually scan everything is now a tiny white box with absolutely useless garbage everywhere, from ribbons full of buttons I'll use maybe once a year to now auto-suggested text that never aligns with what I want to say and could potentially have disastrous results when I inevitably accidentally click it.
That's because the the point of computers has shifting from allowing you do create to allowing other people to feed you content.
Also: The ad driven model always wrecks everything it touches.
The Ribbon traded a bunch of text pull-downs for a bunch of icons pull-down that you have to hoover to discover what they mean, it kept the "multiple levels of pull-downs" problem, but now the extra levels have no icon or text with even more levels because each one has a limited space, and threw away the icon toolbars that had a much larger density of icons.
Mostly the same way as you used to do with pull-down menus. Press alt to display tooltips with shortcuts over ribbon buttons. Then you do bunch of alt + [letter] to get the option you want. The underscored letter in traditional pull-down menus in my opinion was similarly non-obvious.
And I don't mean the underscore, that was for fast access in the menu. Most menus would say actual hotkey on the right side of the menu by default.
But even the underscore gives a default visual clue that you can do something with that letter, and you can then ask what. If you're new to computers, the concept of anyotkey may not be obvious to even ask about.
I can take that out from my list of Ribbon problems :)
> You keep saying this, and it's just not true.
You saying it's not true doesn't make it so.
> The extreme skeuomorphism in the older iOS versions was just as maligned as flat design is today.
Citation needed. As I remember, most pundits simply had some beef with a few extreme cases of skeuomorphism in iOS 6. Nobody advocated that Apple throw the baby out with the bath water as they did in iOS 7.
> It's important to remember that the move away from pull-down menus was informed by a good deal of end-user research
Again, citation needed. Windows 95, now that's informed by a good deal of research. Everything Microsoft did starting with Windows XP? Not so much.
An app could easily display not just matches but also a help screen about each match (not possible with today's menus). Also, text matches could be in categories/tags of commands. Type "select" (or even just "sel") and it'd offer commands related to the category "selection", for example.
Such a UI could easily work as a replacement for a classical menu bar, in that it would be a superset of this functionality (a menu bar is essentially an "unfiltered" match UI, exploded).
What's also irritating is the fact that an extra click or two is now needed to Save As or Open from that ridiculous "menu".
Many pull down menus still allow for keyboard based navigation through arrow keys and keyboard letters.
No, no it wasn't. Because skeuomorphism wasn't a usability issue the way flat design is.
Yet I don't expect that UI will go back to 'classic UI', many of those who create UI care more about being perceived as modern (or more accurately not being perceived as outdated) than efficiency, so flat design will probably be replaced by another 'fashion driven design'..
The flat fad is just a new coat of paint to make things look fresh and new. When the flat fad has run its course, they'll put on another fresh coat of paint.
That's my guess, anyway.
Everyone who has put at least a little bit of thought into UI design knew from the beginning that flat design is bad.
But no, it is 2019 and we still have scrollbars and buttons that are barely visible. Just because Google and Microsoft unreasonably decided to do it that way and every other one blindely copies that (because how can a those big, big companies be possibly wrong?). Fuck accessibility, even though we serve billions of customers on a daily basis.
(I don't love everything about "flat design", but not everything needs to be super skeumorphic)
Windows 10 does BTW not allow to change the scrollbar colours even though it was possible in most older Windows versions. They simply don't care about accessability and userability these days.
Ideally we could all choose our preferred themes like we can with GTK.
Probably a bad example because its signs on public, state owned roads. Private roads don't have signage requirements, you can even have your kids drive your cars without a license on private roads.
However we do have building code and more importantly the ADA which sets standards for businesses (like, ya know, websites) to meet minimum accessibility standards.
The problem is I don't see any congress where the average number of mathematicians within their ranks is within a margin of error of 0 or rarely enough scientists to fill counting on one hand being capable of writing actually good regulation in this or any software related regard.
Another Responder pointed out that material design is better. Maybe I'm ignorant but I don't see how. Perhaps icon quality/diversity is better these days but the basic premise of 2D facsimile for real world 3D objects is still there.
Personally I prefer that UI things can be easily and uniquely related to action. This can be achieved by education I. E. sliders now look like nice rounded corner progress bars of yesteryear but we have gotten used to them thru their imposition on us by G and A.
That said I have used a few very old GUI programs and their look now is jarringly uncomfortable even though the tools are great and the UI is clear.
Material design uses shadows to add a third dimension. The shadows cause boundaries and can help indicate parts of the interface that can move independently.
I would definitely not claim this is much better, but it is at least a little bit better.
This feels like a straw man argument. Of course nicer looking design is usually worse for function. If nothing else, just sticking to ONE type of consistent design lets all users rely more on memory. They seem to assume that user interfaces are designed with the sole goal of being usable. Have they seen any modern furniture?
When they say "our results suggest that" they don't mean that the product (e.g. a web site) would be better in some sense such as making more money long term. They say it would be easier to interact with. I completely buy that.
But that's the easy part of the equation to prove! The hard part is: does a site that's nicer looking according to a majority of users but 5% harder to interact with get enough extra business to offset the more difficult UX? Does the company valuation or other metrics such as ease of attracting talent improve? This is the similar to the question "would a furniture maker sell more of this chair if it was 10% more comfortable but a bit uglier?".
Pavlovian responses to interface design play into malicious actors hands after all.
Watch a six year old try to use google for the first time; results are swamped by a blizzard of ads and maps and diversions. This is design driven by greed and a/b testing at it's worst - our tools are only just fit for purpose and the costs that that imposes on us are hidden and absorbed personally.
IMO, flat design takes the "best for the most for the least" approach of charles and ray eames (and so many others who followed the same ethos but maybe stated it less eloquently), and perverts "the least" to mean least amount of effort/money for the computer (or, cynically, the designer as well), rather than for the user. it either skews the idea of a design constraint, or highlights problems with the web as a platform. whatever flat design accomplishes, it isn't perfect for all cases, but it isn't necessarily bad, either. we just have to remember that as technologies mature, it's always possible we're designing for constraints that no longer exist.
I say this a lot, but when talking about web design, in retrospect, flash was like future alien technology that got taken away from us. although I understand the attack surface that came with it and why it had to go.
sorry, I should have emphasized the web/browser part of my explanation more. the chip in an iphone could support these things, but could safari? we didn't even have a <video> tag back then. 3D transforms in CSS were brand new (i.e. unusable if you wanted to support legacy browsers), same for WOFF files, requestanimationframe, drop shadows, and so many other modern conveniences. 4G was also brand new -- and uncommon. the web was going through some serious growing pains, and that's just in the highly developed world -- this doesn't really touch on the global availability/use/implementation of the tech we're talking about. it's possible my timeline is off, but designers were still constrained by those doing the engineering during this time. maintaining web apps with hacks to support as many browsers as possible was a nightmare. and so compromises were made -- clearly. and I think flat design came out of that, for better and for worse.
> Current web apps that use flat designs are just as heavy as any other.
that's what I was getting at toward the end of my comment with regard to observing constraints that may no longer actually exist.
Apple started pushing flat design just as we were getting high-resolution retina displays for phones. Since the UI art wasn't defined with a vector format, the minimalist icons for flat design was still being provided in big multi-resolution .pngs, so there was little or no savings on resources.
So those UI image files could just as easily contain detailed shaded and/or textured images that make the most of a high-res color display.
Haven’t gone through the study, but seeing the examples wondering if there is also selection bias - many older Russian sites still look fairly dated and users may be more used to that look, finding it more familiar and easier to navigate.
The argument that interactive elements must be skeuomorphic doesn't work today since _every_ element is interactive