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It's really interesting that Google seems to be at times able to pull off wonderful UI design bordering on genius (Chrome, Google Maps) and at other times just barely able to be at par (most of Android with select exceptions). I guess this just reflects different teams within Google, but it's a shame they can't apply their best UI talent across all their products (and particularly, the products that most need it, like Android).

Google does an above average, and often good job, at actual usability challenges. But they are pretty universally bad at making things that people would consider beautiful.

Chrome gets usability issues right. Things like their tab closing behavior, the almost total lack of dialogues, one click bookmarking, etc. are all really great. But Chrome is not a beautiful app. Its toolbar icons are fairly childish, its tabs just a bit off.

I'd say that trend holds through most of their products.

> But Chrome is not a beautiful app

I guess it's totally subjective and therefore fairly meaningless, but I think Chrome is the most visually appealing of any browser right now. This is partly, I guess, because its primary virtue is minimalism, but the parts that are there are beautiful, I think.

There's a lot of subtlety in Chrome, too.

For instance (in 9.0.597):

* Mouse over a tab, and move your cursor back and forth. The whole tab is highlighted, but there's extra brightness around the cursor.

* Similarly, look carefully at the buttons on the main bar, or at bookmarks, when mousing over. There's a subtle brightening over a fraction of a second, instead of an instant-on hover effect. Don't believe it? Compare it to mousing over the "+" new tab button, which is instantly highlighted to its full degree.

* Tabs, when re-arranged, slide to their new positions instead of snapping.

* URLs lose http://, and everything after the first "/" is very slightly grayed instead of black.

* Every corner is curved. Every dark edge is under-highlighted, so tabs seem to "float above" the rest of the UI. Those back / reload buttons seem to be recessed black icons instead of buttons - until you mouse over them.

* "Active" chrome elements - active tab, browser + extensions, and bookmarks - have a light -> dark -> light transition through all of them. Inactive tabs are noticeably closer to a solid, darker gray, though they to have a slight gradient. It helps unify the active tab with the applicable chrome seamlessly. You'll also notice Firefox 4 has adopted similar visual cues for tabs.

All of which adds more visual cues to what things do, and easier hierarchical organization at a glance, while maintaining extremely minimal clutter.

There are also a couple things I dislike. Like how utterly massive the bookmarks-in-folders on the bookmarks bar are. Almost twice what other browsers have / via the menu. Glitches in Web Inspector. Excessively-useful hidden preferences. But overall, there's a frightening amount of polish in Chrome.

The day that minimalism got equated with beauty was the day we realized we had too much clutter in our lives, so minimalism = beauty is simply a reactionary concept. Minimalism in of itself could not be considered beauty if you looked at what is considered beautiful art, architecture, clothing, etc, in general.

Take a course on art history. Especially global art history. This is not a new concept, new style, trend, focus, what-have-you, though it has gained new momentum.

Edit: See: Suprematism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suprematism), De Stijl (though they liked bold colors) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Stijl), arguably Bauhaus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bauhaus), "International Style" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_style_(architectu... ), all of which came before the increased business in art of the 40s-60s, which came before "Minimalism" proper in ~1965. And this is primarily in America & Europe - other areas have had their blends as well.

All of which was pretty heavily influenced by the traditional Japanese aesthetic, which has a pretty strong focus on Minimalism-like attributes.

Minimalism as a positive thing isn't just reactionary. It also serves to bring subtle details into focus, and to emphasize the craft (ie, crafter's experience / quality) as a whole rather than individual details.

I agree wholeheartedly, I've been using Chrome for a few months now and every time I have to open Firefox to do something it's a little painful.

Couldn't agree more. The tabs and buttons fit perfectly into my operating system (http://i.imgur.com/DO5SQ.png reusing this image from a few threads back). I don't even use the "Use GTK+ Theme" option (though I do use system titlebar because it looks hot).

What OS and theme/toolbar/etc is this? It looks great.

This is stock Ubuntu 10.10 Ambiance theme:

Unstable Docky from PPA (The stable version is basically identical). Docky is pure butter. It is a few features down from AWN but it's MUCH more consistent (had problems with clicks registering in AWN in weird places) and is gorgeous. It really takes advantage of the SVG icons from Faenza.

* ppa:docky-core/ppa

The toolbar at the top is standard gnome-panel with Cardapio replacing the standard GNOME Main Menu. Cardapio is easily my favorite main menu of any OS. I have the ability to change the identifier for it, search the menu, see everything grouped nicely, AND resize the menu itself. Awesome stuff.

* ppa:cardapio-team/unstable

* screenshot of Cardapio: http://i.min.us/i9sRs.png

I'm using Faenza icons:

* http://tiheum.deviantart.com/art/Faenza-Icons-173323228

* ppa:tiheum/equinox

Note, there is a conflict caused by Faenza's author overwriting PNGs in /usr/share/dockmanager which is used by the Docky DEB. I used DPKG and --force-overwrite to get them to install properly. A bit of a pain when there are updates, but really it's only one command and it's well worth it.

(The only other thing I could add is, I use dockbarx when I remote in because it doesn't require compositing where Docky does. When I do that, my setup looks like this: http://i.min.us/iErSa.png)

The deb conflict could be solved rather neatly by using dpkg diversions: http://www.debian.org/doc/debian-policy/ap-pkg-diversions.ht...

I would consider using dev chromium so you have the option to hide the system title bar and push the [x] [_] [[]] down inline with the tabs. Otherwise great links!

Gaaah, so many wasted vertical pixels! http://imgur.com/DwTik.png

I adore both the usability and appearance of Chrome (icons, tabs, etc) -- Chrome is beautiful in this beholder's eyes.

>But Chrome is not a beautiful app.

What would you consider a beautiful app? Chrome is the prettiest piece of desktop software I use, but I don't have a whole lot to compare it to.

Subjective opionion but - http://www.6wunderkinder.com/wunderlist/ - Their task management app is pretty 'beautiful' imo.

Most people would rather use their software than admire it.

Yes, and I severy dislike software where the 'UI bling' gets in the way of usability, or where the application author disregards my user preferences (like system colors and fonts) and tries to force his taste on me. So-called 'skinned' apps often have this problem. What's wrong with native controls? That's what I expect and am used to.

But Chrome is not a beautiful app.

That's an important distinction to make. Beautiful is not the same thing as UI. Many many people see something pretty and think that it therefore has great UI.

However UI is more than the colours (though that's important), it's things like discoverability, predicatability, etc.

My girlfriend admits Chrome is faster and generally better, but still uses Firefox because it's friendlier and designed more to her tastes.

like Android

Huh? Works for me.

Consistent? Perhaps not. Bad design? Hardly, and it's getting better with each release.

I find Android a lot easier to use than iOS. What I've noticed when using an iOS device is that I often can't figure out how to do something. Then I research it and discover that it simply can't be done. Easy to learn, but unusable.

Android, on the other hand, trades discoverability for usability. I have heard that some Android users don't even know that they can pull down the notification bar. But once you learn to do that, it's a wonderfully usable system. (Same for long-press. What to do something with a thing you see? Press and hold. Works every time, but not something you would necessarily think to do.)

I think when people say "Android is unusable" they really mean, "Apple's icons are prettier", which is absolutely true. iOS devices look stunning on billboards and on TV. Android devices? Meh. (I blame the tastelessness of the carriers, though. A big fucking robot eyeball as the background? NASCAR and Sprint logos all over the place? Fuck off and die. AOSP is nice looking, though.)

(Want to see the biggest software disaster ever in the history of humanity? The Nook Color with Android. B&N's effort to cripple Android was so half-hearted that they unintentionally created the worst computing device ever made. Examples: you can select text and choose "copy", but they removed "paste" from the long-tap menu on text fields. You can copy, but not paste. They also made their own "buttons" that work like Android's; Back (which is an undiscoverable gesture, not a button), Menu, Home. But sometimes, you also get the normal Android buttons. So you have two menus (that work alike, but have different items), two back buttons (that work differently, sometimes), and so on. WHAT WERE THEY ON WHEN THEY DESIGNED THIS.

I'm going to be honest. I've never been so upset by anything ever. Using one of these things made me want to strangle the life out of everyone involved with the project and then go buy an iPad.

And oh yeah, the fucking screen flickers like a dying fluorescent light. HOW CAN YOU FAIL SO BADLY.

The one good thing is that they do not advertise that they are using Android.

But I digress.)

I've been using vanilla Android for almost a year now. The more I use it the more I dislike it. By far my number one complaint is bugs. Some of them are so apparent and easily reproducible is simply inexcusable that they're still there (all reported btw). I haven't rooted my Nexus One, so I don't have that to blame either.

It gets tiring to click the same message-contact shortcut and sometimes to be taken to the right place and sometimes to the list of users, or trying to attach an image and not be sure if the gallery application will crash or not (and having to manually close it), or after N text messages sent and getting a lovely "Message could not be sent" error not knowing if it's the messaging app misbehaving or my carrier (almost always a force close of the messaging application fixes the issue), or the scrolling in the browser acting up while locking and unlocking the screen miraculously fixes it... There's also the focus on fancy features like navigation while neglecting the basics like the phone part. I had more control / features on the phone side with my ancient Sony Ericsson dumb phone than on my "superphone"

The potential is there though...

I couldn't find your bug report or patch anywhere. Do you think people can magically fix bugs you experience without you even telling them what the bug is?

(I personally have never seen any of these issues. The main problem I have with Android is the culture of low-quality ad-supported apps, and sadly, that's something a bug report isn't going to fix.)

Did you really search?!

One of the issues I mentioned is on the first page of bug reports: http://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=6296&c...

Here's the contact shortcut one: http://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=10663&...

For the gallery crashing since I don't know exactly what causes it I can't point to a specific bug report, but there are over 100 unsolved issues with the gallery application.

I don't have time to search for the other bug reports, but they're there.

They should "magically" fix bugs so I never experience them.

I think you're just talking about the applications in a stock Nexus One, not the operating system itself (i.e. the UI, the services it provides, etc). If the apps are lousy it's one thing, but the system behaves quite predictably more often than not.

And yes, the stock apps could do with a bit improvement, but you can always install another alternative app from the market. That's what it is for, isn't it?

In my experience that's a distinction iphone owners don't need to make.

Being an iPhone owner I disagree (though original iPhone so I don't know about newer models). Mine crashed, not applications, the phone itself, on a regular basis.

I never ever had a crash of the OS (starting with 3.x, now still 4.0) so far on my iPhone 3GS.

> The more I use it the more I dislike it.

This applies to all technology I've used, ever.

For me it's the exception, rather than the rule...

I didn't (and wouldn't) say Android is badly designed. It's OK, and I'd even say certain parts are beautiful, but it's quite uneven and some parts do actually border on ugly. It is certainly good enough for me, but for most people I think the bar has been raised to stratospheric levels by Apple and people now have really high expectations of the visual experience they should get from phone OSes.

I don't know about you, but Android 2.2 is pretty beautiful. I had an iPhone for a while and personally feel the design of Android is significantly more natural to me. Best of all if you don't like how something behaves, you can usually swap it out.


They're trying (sort of): http://code.google.com/closure/library/

Here's a talk once about their process: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=697KX4Ciiws#t=02m40s

and a blog post: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2008/04/what-makes-design-goo...

P.S. Anyone know an easy Maps API trick for setting zoom level to display each of the U.S. states (which vary dramatically in size)?

I'm not familiar with the Maps API, but the site does it for you:

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&... (from searching Texas)

Doh! On second thought, actually think I tried that, but was unhappy with the results.

Try using the fitBounds method to set the map to a LatLngBounds object.

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