Designing phenomenal UI is a thankless, unfair task which is full of contradictions.
Let’s go over the list of goals for good UI and notice how screwed our UI designers are.
Good UI should:
- Be easy to learn, but powerful to use
- Be pleasing to the eye, yet not annoying
- Integrate with a user’s natural workflow, but also train them in new concepts or ideas
And that’s just the contradiction list. I haven’t even started to rant about how many times an UI designer has walked into my office with something totally amazing on paper, but utterly impractical to implement as it would take a team of engineers six months to implement. So, I say “No”. They get pissed and look for alternate means of sneaking the feature in. They try convincing the individual engineers who are happy to be asked, but give our designers the same stunned glare of “Are you insane?”
The cycle continues. Great ideas hammered into insignificance by those damned practical, conservative engineers. Tenacious UI designers keep pushing the engineering team and, in doing so, start to gain appreciation of the technical aspects of writing code and, oh shit, now they’ve totally betrayed their profession. They start to believe those engineering estimates because, well, yeah, it sure does look like it’d take six months to land my whiz-bang concept in the product… sigh… I’d best get back to organizing these text controls neatly.
No no no no no no no also no.
Take a moment to download the following product:
Done downloading? Good. Fire that sucker up and tell me what you think.
Your first thought is, “Whoa, no cool application icon? What’s this crap?” Get over it.
Your second thought might be, “Uh, Rands, this is pretty simple man. What’s the big deal?”
That’s right. It is simple. In fact, your first impression is that you could fire up Interface Builder and slap this together in a ten short minutes. You’re really quite wrong. Keep using the product. Add some feeds… read some articles… and you’ll start to appreciate the work that has gone into this application.
Little things like the opacity adjustment when the application moves to the background. It says, “Hi, reading feeds is something which is part of your desktop… not part of your dock.” Yeah, that’s right. Or how about the choice to lead with the headlines in the feed list as opposed to the title of the news source. That says, “The article is more important the source”. Hey, that’s right, too. Hadn’t thought of that, either. Spot on!
What makes this early version of NewsFire great is that it nails all of the delicate contradictions I explained above as well as satiating what I consider to be job #1 of great UI… Simply nail that first impression.
I haven’t a clue whether David Watanabe is an engineer turned UI designer or vice versa, but I do know that he’s not listening to that engineering voice in his head when he’s working. He’s thinking about the user and the domain… “How do people really want to read their news?”
With those requirements in mind, he’s build a simple, approachable product which is now resting comfortably in the bottom corner of my second monitor. It’s happy there and it belongs there because good UI is humble.. it’s working best when you notice it the least.