Thoughts on Human Interface GuidelinesDaniel Jalkut wrote up a little bit on the Mac world's slow but steady drift away from the human interface guidelines. I guess it never really bothered me that Apple started bending and breaking the rules. After all it's their set of rules. Daniel has had a lot of great quotables recently, and this is one of them:
At the very least I think itís time for us crotchety old engineers indoctrinated by System 7 or earlier values to mellow out a bit. I got so used to defending the party line for so many years, that I stopped questioning whether it was worth defending.
First of all, LOL. Really, though, there was a time when the HIG stuff was worth defending vigorously. It kept things from descending into the depths of... well... the sort of stuff we see on other platforms.
This was partially because the Mac was just sort of orbiting Windows, and many big-name Mac apps were Windows ports. You considered yourself lucky just to have something that ran without crashing. Nowadays, the Mac has its own gravity, and is actively charting a path for Windows UI.
It also was a lot more important when the Mac didn't have quite the rich selection of standard controls and widgets. Now that we do, even the Mac apps that don't try so hard on the UI front are still pretty good.
But We Need Guidelines!
I think the developers that are interested in keeping the human interface guidelines up to date basically want to know two things:
1. What can I do to make a good Mac app today?
2. Where is this all going... what's the master plan?
Pretty much everyone has figured out the first one. If you want to know how to build a "modern" Mac UI, look at Apple's current lineup of apps. That is and likely will be the de-facto standard for some time. It changes at least every year, and maybe more often.
For the second one, I think the big secret which isn't such a big secret is that there is no master plan. There are some interesting stories in Revolution in the Valley about how the Mac team had an overall goal, but they didn't know the details of how they were going to get there. They basically figured it out as they went along. I think that's what we're seeing at Apple today.
Apple could have either sat everyone down and said "look, we're doing things a bit differently now," at which point people would absolutely freak out, or they could just start moving the direction they wanted to go and wait for everyone to sort of figure it out. Guess which one they chose.
I really think this is the right path, though. Can you imagine Front Row with NSTableViews?
What Does This Mean to Developers?
Here's the deal. You can either sit there and fret about the lack of a proper document, or just import ideas from Mail, iLife, the Pro apps and work it all out as you go. Frankly, most end users don't even know or care what the human interface documents say. They want it to look nice and they want it to fit in with the rest of their experience.
Even if there was a document, the Apple application teams and the OS team are going to continue to move forward on their fronts, so the document would likely be obsoleted quickly after it is published, and possibly always out of date.
The current state of Mac apps is the documentation of the human interface guidelines, even though that sounds like a paradox. Trust me on this.
What About Users?
Some Mac users are concerned that the lack of guidelines means things could spin completely out of control. Here's what I've learned: Mac users, on the whole, have a sense of taste. If an app's experience isn't right, they simply won't use or buy it. The Mac user base is its own filter. It's not just theory, we've seen it happen.
In any case, all of this will seem tame when Leopard hits the streets with Core Animation on board.
Thoughts on Human Interface Guidelines
Posted Oct 23, 2006 — 13 comments below
Posted Oct 23, 2006 — 13 comments below