I’ve gotten into a bit of discussion over at macrumors over what a few people deem to be a trivial matter. Someone began a thread discussing the texture used on the left iPhone below.
This is the texture used in the folders in iOS and on the back of Dashboard widgets in Mac OS. In short, it’s hideous, and it looks like it took all of two minutes to make in Photoshop. And now it’s everywhere.
And on the right is a design Teehan+Lax made almost two years ago. Look how clean and sleek it is, and how they’ve thought of how to display everything. This was before Apple decided on the top down swipe to bring it up. Their version assumed a home screen next to the app screens like the search feature. Brilliant. Easy. Beautiful.
Instead, we’re going to have something more akin the what’s on the left. It’s disgusting.
The argument got me thinking about how non-designers think about design. One person in particular said that it was a silly thing to complain about and that he thinks that some people would be satisfied with a bag of dog crap if the bag looked “pretty.”
At that point, other than being annoyed because his view basically belittles my profession, I realized how little people actually understand design, art, and their importance to modern civilization. Keep in mind that we’re not just talking about posters and paintings. The chair you’re sitting in while reading this was designed by someone who spent time thinking about how you’re going to use what they create.
Design and function go hand in hand. Good design gives you clues about how to use something. Take Apple again as an example. The original iPod entered a crowded MP3 player market and took it over within a few years at a time when Apple was basically a joke in the market. Why? It was easy as hell to just pick up and use. Using the wheel was obvious. Using the center button for selection was a no-brainer. Navigating the menus was easy. In a few seconds you were listening to a song. It looked great. It’s design not only drew you in, but it also taught you how to use it.
Would you believe that a lot of the times you end up looking stupid while using something as simple as a door are related to failures of design? The next time you go shopping at a mall, notice that most exterior doors have a long vertical bar on the outside. You don’t need a sign to tell you to pull it. That’s what you naturally do. You naturally push doors that have a flat panel. Most doors in retail areas use both. However some doors are unidirectional and have bars on both sides. You pull it, but it turns out you were supposed to push it. You look like an idiot and it’s not your fault. The door was poorly designed. Good design sucks you in and makes how things work apparent.
Design can also be purely aesthetic. You may think you don’t give a shit about design, but that’s not the case. You may not care about the specifics like a designer does, but you do care. You just don’t realize it. Did you debate about what color of car to buy? Is your house only painted white on every surface? Are your appliances all red? Are all of your shirts the same? Do you only care about price when buying clothes? Do you have a favorite color?
Design can be a thankless profession. Hardly anyone notices good design and I guess that’s how it should be. But realize this: there’s a reason that Apple, Target, Starbucks, Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, Fossil, etc. spend millions of dollars on design. There are people that care about how you interact with things more deeply than you’ll ever know. There are people that agonize over how your toothbrush fits in your hand, or what your coffee cup looks like. We’re just trying to make the world a better place for all of us because design solves problems. Design makes things easier.
Let’s get back to the “linen” texture. It’s ugly, appears cheap, and it hurts legibility. Is that a huge deal? No, not for the few people that like that look. For the others it makes the entire experience feel ugly, cheap, and difficult. How can it possibly have that affect? Design is subtle.
The next time you go to Target pay attention to what the experience is like. The next time you go to Wal Mart do the same thing. The lighting in Target is much better and the aisles are free of clutter. People go through every day and every night to put things back and straighten up the aisles—I know because I worked there during college. Wal Mart doesn’t do that. They put things back, but they don’t straighten them up. They clutter the aisles with items still in boxes. Target has rules against that. Wal Mart’s lighting is poor and the aisles are high. The whole experience feels like you’re in a dank warehouse and the mess becomes aggravating. Target feels like you’re in a store. It’s easy to shop there. It’s clean—and not in the alcohol sort of way.
I noticed that people don’t understand what “clean” means in terms of design. Teehan+Lax’s design is clean. It’s minimal. It’s not textured and it’s not cluttered. It makes excellent use of white space—which helps you feel less overwhelmed by information. It’s classy because it’s simple. People also seem to equate complicated textures with “classy” as if it cost money to make it. Unfortunately, they’re wrong. The Apple design is cluttered—not clean—simply by using that texture. And it’s not a particularly high end texture.
I went back and made my own version of Teehan+Lax’s notifications screen. I left the title bar at the bottom so that the user knows how to close the window once they’ve opened it. The screen slides in attached to the bar. The clock is large so that you can easily remind yourself of the time with a quick glance when looking at missed calls and text messages. And to appease those who won’t find it “classy” or “clean” without a texture, I added a texture that actually is classy and happens to work well with brushed metals and chrome—leather.
Don’t forget, design is important and design is everywhere. I hope I helped you see that a bit clearer.