Why are Apple's products so confusing? They ignore design principles

Don Norman for LinkedIn Pulse:

Apple has gotten carried away by the slick, minimalist appearance of their products at the expense of ease of use, understandability, and the ability to do complex operations without ever looking at the manual.
Today, the products are beautiful, but for many of us, confusing. The fonts are pleasant to the eye, but difficult to read. The principle of "discoverability" has been lost. The only way to know what to do in many situations is to have memorized the action. The screens offer no assistance in remembering whether one should swipe left or right, up or down, one finger or two. Or three. One tap or two. I frequently have to "re-read the manual," which means going back to the control panel to review the multiple finger swipes -- which are not even the same for all devices: the magic mouse is different from the trackpad which is different from the iPad.

My only question: Shouldn't design principles change considering 8 years back we only had the desktop and the web that we interacted with a mouse/stylus and keyboard? 

4 Myths About Apple Design, From An Ex-Apple Designer

1.  Apple has the best designers.

It's actually the engineering culture, and the way the organization is structured to appreciate and support design. Everybody there is thinking about UX and design, not just the designers. And that's what makes everything about the product so much better . . . much more than any individual designer or design team.

2.  Apple design team is infinite

For the most part, Apple didn't employ specialist designers. Every designer could hold their own in both creating icons and new interfaces, for instance. And thanks to the fact that Apple hires design-centric engineers, the relatively skeleton design team could rely on engineers to begin the build process on a new app interface, rather than having to initiate their own mock-up first.

3.  Apple crafts every details with Intention

Apple designers (and engineers!) will often come up with clever interactive ideas—like 3-D cube interfaces or bouncy physics-based icons—during a bit of their down time, and then they might sit on them for years before they make sense in a particular context.

4.  Steve Jobs passion frightened everyone

The reality is, the people who thrived at Apple were the people who welcomed that desire and passion to learn from working with Steve, and just really were dedicated to the customer and the product. They were willing to give up their weekends and vacation time. And a lot of the people who complained that it wasn't fair . . . they didn't see the value of giving all that up versus trying to create the best product for the customer and then sacrificing everything personally to get there.

Mark Kawano is the founder of Storehouse. Before Storehouse, Kwano was a designer at Apple where he worked on Aperture and iPhoto later becoming Apple's User Experience Evangelist.

Documenting UX

A lot of companies today implement an agile process and the remaining ones like to call themselves agile. A few years back any designer (UX/IX) would pull out their hair because turning around design details wasn’t easy given the amount of time a sprint would end. Years go by and processes have evolved. Processes like LeanUX and staggered sprints or design and R&D sprints in parallel have more or less solved this issue. However these processes have reduced the amount of documentation.

We have user research data, but never used it to create personas. We have analytics data but never exported them out of their software/databases. There are a list of scenarios or stories that are important or have a higher priority, but they never made it to the official todo list or backlog. All, I see is wireframes, trolls of em. Some of them make sense like login screens and forgot passwords; the others I have no idea. Today wireframes have become one of the most important means of documentation. I even see scanned sketches, photographed whiteboards and clickable wireframes. One change in the use case or workflow, and you are back to square one.

It does capture details; however, chances are when I see someone else’s wires, I may not like a solution. How do you support your solution? 

And I have made them all; mistakes. The fact that the requirements or priorities are in my head and not anywhere else does not do good for me to convince someone why these things need to be done the way I intend to. 

Over the last couple of months I started maintaining a combination of few documents that has helped me transition stuff and propose design easily. Here is a short run down of these documents and processes: 

We all do our bit by venturing out and talking to users. We capture notes and lot of em. When you do so, try to capture them as quotes. There are two important advantages in doing so. One, Its faster to write them while you are interviewing/talking to them and Two, it preserves the context. 

"I have to apply the same filter every fucking time I visit this page" 

“See I like this pages concept in OneNote. This way I can just have multiple notebooks and go and write down in pages within them..."

One of the important thing is to digitize these notes. It could be in a notepad or Evernote; I found excel helpful (yeah!). I was able to create buckets/categories and then write the quotes in these specific buckets. Also, when I digitized these notes; I was able to add attributes to them; like screen resolution, position, firm, interview date, system usage, type of user, etc. These become important when I really wanted to narrow down to specific kind of users.  Apart from that I color codeed these quotes - for example. Red for negative, Blue for positive and Greens for opportunities; this gave me an idea on the state of the existing software.  

I haven’t created any personas (and I might not for the time being) for my work. But when I was working on a specific problem, I was able to filter down to a handful of target users in my excel sheet then parsing through notebooks of research data. Once I have narrowed it down to a bunch of users, it is easier for me to identify patterns in their quotes (colors added value). Those attributes that you add now allows you to see how much is in common between these users.

After looking at my excel, I note down tasks/use cases/stories. I maintain a list in a todo list. Apple reminders does the job for me. Nothing fancy. This allows me to scope out, prioritize stuff. Anything that is high priority gets a date and bubbles up, rest of them just remain at the bottom. Simple.

Analytics - If you have it, great. This comes in use when you really want to see what users are doing with existing systems. How are they using it. Export them and keep them handy. Don’t rely on your system that you did log in and get data. Historic data is fine. Patterns are not going to change overnight. Export them because you can quickly pivot data. That is important to figure out supporting numbers for your uses cases. 

This accompanying my wireframes/sketches is a good combination. I try to ensure my wireframes are also not too elaborate. Stick to the specific workflow or use case and thats good enough. 

Trying to Keeping it Simple and Stupid. So far it has worked for me. Maybe over the next few months or a year I will know if it was effective enough.

Please leave your comments and suggestions or any of the processes you personally follow or send an email to get in touch.


Google's New Chrome update is interesting...

I don't use Chrome browser at all. But I have it installed on my iPhone and MacBook - well its work related.

Every once in a while Chrome gets an update on my iPhone and I make it a point to check only if there have been new additions or changes to the browser. Today when I checked my App Store updates, Chrome was on the top of the list and the first update said "New look with Material Design bringing bold graphics, fluid motion and tactile surfaces". I had to check it out.

The one thing that struck me right away was the missing address bar. At first it put me off but then it made complete sense. Also, the title of this blog post has the word "interesting". I realized after using this browser for a few minutes that I was enter a search more often then entering entire URL addresses (I do that out of habit). Because now I wasn't tapping the address bar, but Google's search box. 

Google would like more people searching for websites then entering actual website addresses, because even though the search result will provide the website users intended to browse as the first result, chances are its a promotion. 

The Rapidly Disappearing Business of Design

Robert Fabricant writing for Wired:

Adaptive Path, a bay area pioneer in User Experience Design (UX), recently exited the business, finding greener pastures as the in-house design agency for Capital One. Smart Design, a pioneer in design entrepreneurship through its groundbreaking work with OXO in the ’90s, recently closed its SF office.
Consolidation is nothing new for creative industries like advertising, which is dominated by a few large holding companies. But for the first time, in 2014 we saw Fortune 500 companies—primarily big banks and IT firms—grabbing the biggest share of the design talent pool.

This was bound to happen. Design is now becoming one of the important part of the so cold SDLC. A lot of credit goes to the rise of smart phones and gadgets. The Hardware era that we all though died is back and with a new gadget coming out every day, main stream smartphones, tablets and maybe (smart) watches releasing every year; design has become an integral part. 
There are so many choices from different vendor for every single gadget you can think of and today the consumer has become conscious about ease of use, integrating with their workflows and how a new piece of technology will fit their digital eco-system. User Experience is at its core.

IDEO took the lead in embracing a broader application of design “thinking” that is divorced from the shiny outputs of websites, consumer products or digital gadgetry. Working closely with A.G. Lafley of P&G, IDEO legitimized this broader notion of human centered design (HCD) as a powerful (and scalable) approach to innovation in large organizations.

Who can forget the simple ergonomics of the first Apple mouse by Jim Yurchenco.

TED-like product launches have become a right of passage for executive like Jeff Bezos and Satya Nadella, with Wall Street responding appropriately. Inevitably, big corporations began to see UX as a critical corporate asset, not something to outsource to a third party design firm, who could end up working for your competitors the following year.

Thinking design is not part of a small team in an organization or something that you outsource it. Design should be an integral part of the organiation and should involve every single employee.

I saw this first-hand working on the UX strategy for GE from 2012-14 with Greg Petroff that led to the build out of a 70-person design team at GE’s software HQ. Fidelity has made a similar investment in design, building out a team of more than 200 including a major outpost in Jersey City to attract New York talent. Building an effective internal design culture to attract and retain creative talent is hard work. So a number of organizations have acquired entire firms as a short cut to corporate design capacity. In addition to the acquisition of AP by CapOne, the last few years have seen Facebook acquire HotStudio and Accenture acquire Fjord, a leading service design firm.
This corporate scale-up is not purely a US phenomenon. Rumor has it that Barclays is now the biggest employer of design talent in London, and Singtel has built out a massive floor for its design team in Singapore. But no one has been more aggressive in building design into their core capabilities than IBM, which is on track to grow their design team to 1,000 people, making them by most measures the largest design firm in the world.

I need not speak much about the Lotus Notes. But take a look at some of their new products, espeically the ones in partnership with Apple. These products are simple and have great design.

In-sourcing could have its upside: design firms have always struggled to capture the true ROI work from the outside, so hopefully corporate partners can do a better job from the inside. You better believe that they will have to, given the scale of investment at places like GE, IBM and CapOne. Budget planning cycles can be brutal in corporate America if you don’t come armed with hard numbers.

I remember my initial days as a UX designer and one of the most commonly asked questions was ROI. Design can be measured when one is given enough time. ROI numbers will speak for themselves, but its a slow proces - design evolves. 

More importantly, design is increasingly critical to addressing issues that sit outside a single corporate mandate or organizational footprint. In 2013 Clinton Global Initiative dedicated its annual meeting to showcase the role of design in social impact and international development. In the pages of Wired, Melinda Gates famously picked human-centered design as the single biggest driver of social change in the last few decades. If this seems surprising to you, then you might want to check out this illuminating report from the World Bank that profiles projects in which “The Bank” invested in human-centered design to improve the appeal and usage of mobile money services for the BOP. What can you say when the World Bank is tapping more outside design talent than Citibank?

As I said earlier, design evolves and everyday there will be a new challenge.  I see more design firms join corporates and established design firm like Frog and IDEO get into products where they can leverage years of design experience to their advantage.