Design Element
Comment on "Satisfying UI Design is Often Illogical"
by Nicko — Oct 31
While I generally agree with much of what you say about both subjectivity and freshness of feel, I do think that some of the changes in Leopard are objectively retrograde.

My main concerns lie around the edges of the Leopard screen. At the very top, the translucent menu bar is quite simply much harder to read. Reducing the image contrast on one of the most important UI features does the user no favours at all and on many types of background image it is nearly unusable (I've had to edit my "Backdrops" collection on iPhoto to remove the worst case). I really do hope that Apple add a SysPref switch to let users turn this off before I have to give in and edit some resource images.

At the bottom of the screen, the shiny new dock is also, IMHO, a step backwards in a few areas. My biggest bugbear here is again an issue of contrast; the glowing blue balls that indicate if an application is running are simply hard to see. Is that a glowing marker or just a reflection of iChat's icon? The old black triangles were unambiguous. Other grips with the new dock, on a pure usability basis, are the ever-changing representations of docked folders (so now you don't even know what the folder looks like) and the ridiculous "fan" of documents, which require 2-dimentional mouse positioning to use. Worse, not only does the appearance of docked folders change but the result of clicking on them also changes from Open Folder to Fan to Grid. This UI is supposed to be intuitive but users will have a much harder time if both form and function keep changing on them.

Having been looking at HCI problems for most of the last two decades (ever since I interned at PARC in 1990) and I appreciate that there is a fine balance between making features stand out and distracting the user. Small back triangles under launched application icons managed to stand out without distracting but with the new blue balls they manage to distract without even delivering a clear visual cue.

I am a huge fan of the under-the-hood changes that Apple has made in 10.5 and features such as QuickLook offer some substantial gains in usability, but frankly it seems like over in the Menus and Docks department the HCI engineers went on vacation and left the graphic designers in charge...
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