Zach Beauvais

Aesthetics and Applications

by | Jun 12, 2008 | Digital

Windows v0.0
Image by . SantiMB . (too busy) via Flickr

I grew up in a Mac family. My dad used to programme accounts recievable applications on an old, black and white Macintosh, and that was my first encounter with any sort of GUI. Since then, I’ve used both Mac’s and PC’s and have a MacBook for work and a poorly-running, but still brand-new Vista box in my home study. I’ve even dabbled with Linux several times.

However, I’m starting to realise something: an aweful lot of applications (on every platform) get aesthetics completely wrong.

There’s a balance between looking nice, feeling comfortable, and aiding use. I think that the appearance of an application is as important a part of the design as the application itself. It’s a part of the usability, it’s not ‘eye candy’ slapped on for gratuitous reasons.

This is something Mac’s understand, and their GUI is gorgeous. Vista’s pretty good-looking itself, but that’s it’s problem: that’s all it is. The operating system is huge, heavy, slow and unpredictible. It crashes, hangs, and takes minutes to load. I bought a brand new (though admittedly budget-conscious PC) from a manufacturer who shall remain nameless (cough! Dell! cough…) which barely runs just the OS. I’ve had to triple the RAM and will be re-installing this weekend.

So, what Can I do about it? I can switch Aero off… leaving me with a huge, heavy, unpredictable and slightly-less-slow OS which is now ugly. So there’s Vista, tipping in the balance with an “eye candy” approach at aesthetic design.

I see the visual layout, graphics, and overall presence of an application as part of it’s feature-set. It should be intuitive to interact with it somehow. I fine OS X much more intuitive, and aesthetically pleasing. Some apps written for it, however, fall far short it it’s high mark.

ecto is a blogging application for OS X, and it’s plain. It’s not minimalist-chic. It’s not “sleek”. It’s boring and plain. It also isn’t intuitive, unfortunately. It’s got loads of features, but it misses its greatest asset: the fact that it’s built on the most advanced Graphic User Interface ever developed.

Strangely, I much prefer to blog using Windows Live Writer! Its design works well, it’s interesting-looking (without being LOUD, like the rest of the intrusive Vista package) and it does what it says it will. It interacts very well with images (unlike ecto!), videos and links. It also has the ingenious feature of dowloading your site’s CSS so you can actually see how the post should look in situ. (Granted, this doesn’t always work…)

The point of this slightly oblique and poorly-thought-out rant, is that the point of software is to make peoples lives better. Designers completely miss that. Window’s OS designers seem to have thought: “I know, they want pretty. We’ll give ’em pretty. It’ll be so pretty, it’ll need 3GB RAM and a high-end Graphics Card just to run… that’ll show ’em!”

Well, it’s rubbish.

However, whoever was heading the design team for the Live suite (Writer, Mail, Messenger et al), was clearly desinging from an end-user’s perspective. Their thoughts were probably more along the lines of:

“hmm, when I blog, I like to be able to do that with images. Wouldn’t it be good if we could see how it’d look on the site before we publish? Yeah, Hey! I think people will find this useful… ooh, that looks good, too.”

I’d love to hear how you get on when designing or using software. Being me, I don’t think it stops with software design, but is actually a feature of how we live and interact. Let me know…

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