Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Myth of the Clean UI

I've probably said it myself before: "You know, just make the UI clean." These days, that statement is usually followed by, "just like an iPhone." When you dig deeper, you find out that the iPhone is just such a simple UI, why can't we make our UI look like that. You know, it's just icons. How hard can that be design?

And if you look at an iPhone, there's no argument to this - it's a thing of beauty:

But here's the thing, just putting icons on a screen doesn't automatically give you a beautiful layout. Here's a screeshot of the Symbian OS:

Nowhere near as gorgeous as the iPhone - yet, given the definition of "clean" you'd think it would be.

It's only when you have these two examples do you appreciate that the iPhone, while appearing to be sparse, has a whole of bucket load of design decisions behind it to make it work. There's the shape of the phone, the color of the phone, the color of the background, the size of the icons, the style of the icons, the size of the text below the icons, the font used, etc.

One could probably rattle off 50 differences in these designs without much effort.

And that's my point: a design that looks simple is actually combination of dozens, or hundreds of small design choices that need to be there to make it work.

In other words, when a design looks easy, it doesn't mean it was easy to design. If anything, it means it was harder.

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