This is the first ‘homework’ we were given. We were to find two examples of good and bad design.
My first response to this was: only two – there are millions! But I suppose that’s part of it, we couldn’t possible reference the entire web into these two camps -even though we do that everyday in some shape or form.
To that end, here are my choices:
1. The Good
For years everybody always slated Microsoft for their UI design. Which I always thought was a little unfair. OK, so it wasn’t the prettiest, but I’ve always thought that if you were using a computer because it was ‘pretty’ then I assumed that you weren’t using it for serious reasons. We won’t analyse that belief any further.
I recently downloaded Zune after getting fed up with all things Apple (more on that later). and found that no longer were Microsoft a company to be derided for its’ UI. Consider the following:
This is a screen that you’ll spend a bit of time at as it’s the main screen that you’ll choose your music from. And it’s easy to read: Artists on the left, albums in the middle, individual song on the right. At the bottom is the current song – which you’ll see, I’ve been enjoying a bit of Radiohead. I really haven’t placed it there to be cool.
This is the first screen you meet when Zune fires up – the quickplay. On the left you can choose three of your favourite artists. At the minute I have selected Foo Fighters; Elbow and Radiohead – what I’m listening to at the minute – a good bit of rock. In the middle is the new section, what you have recently added etc. The right contains your history – what you’ve previously listened to.
Along the edge of the screen we have different options: quickplay; collection; marketplace (top left); settings; help; sign in (top right); connected devices; rip or burn from a CD; create a playlist (bottom left); now playing (bottom centre); and play options (bottom left). There are a number of different options on the screen but arranged and structured in a way that still maintains a ‘minimalist feel’ to the interface.
This is the screen playing screen which has the current track information – album art and the album listing.
Why does it work?
It’s straightforward. All the elements are laid out in a way that makes sense and is easy to work out because there is no other information cluttering the screen to distract. The overall look fits in with other Windows products as they have begun to build an ecosystem that has a consistent user interface – meaning that customers do not have a learning curve when buying a Windows product. More and more companies are doing this as it helps to tie customers into the ecosystem which will – hopefully – in turn result in repeat sales that serve to tie the customer into that particular company all the more.
2. The Northern Bank App – Android and iOS
I am a Northern Bank customer and have used this previously on iOS and now on Android. The app is the same on both operating systems and so I will not differentiate between the two when discussing the app.
This is the first screen on starting the app. There are five options that form a circle: Account; Transfer; Currency; Contact; Find Us. The first two option require a log on to your account (which is why they are currently faded), whereas the other three can be accessed freely.
I use this app frequently as with most, it is not always possible to get to the bank during opening hours. While I cannot have a full banking experience through this app, I can use the most important elements of banking – checking my account and transferring money.
I’m not going to show any further pictures as this would require log in and showing information about my
Why does it work?
This style is effective as it delivers what would otherwise be a very dry and boring (read functional) app in a way that is not an obvious means of delivery. Many apps follow a cascading top-to-bottom format. This app breaks that mould. The spin wheel is not a unique function to this app, but it does give a unique interface experience.
On the flip side of this, there is no potential for scalability. To insert any new functionality, would mean having to slice the section buttons into smaller parts and this could make it more difficult to select the section you wanted.
Oh Apple, how you have let us down. You build a company around the idea of superior design, superior products; superior everything, and then you give us this. A database. A clunking big database that is as ugly as it is functional. In my opinion, there is no defence of this product from a company who has given so much to the world of technology.
I think what annoys me most is not the structure – as it makes sense – but the disappointment that we are supposed to accept this. For so long, Apple forced iPhone users to use this product to sync phones (and ipod users before them). Don’t get me wrong, I loved my iPod, but this product is clunky and slow. What makes it worse is that when you connect to the store (apps or music) the interface is well thought out and begins to look like Apple created it – so why allow this online loveliness to be soiled by the visual migraine of iTunes?
In favour of iTunes – the layout is well structured, systematic and easy to work out, and delivers your music quickly – which is why you are using it in the first instance. In many ways, where iTunes fails is the absence of a good interface design rather than a poorly designed one. But in a world where companies are now using Apple as a motivation for better products, Apple should know that they have to work even harder to stay in front of the chasing pack.
I know also that comparing iTunes to Zune is a little unfair as the two vary in age. Apple brought iTunes to the public in 2001. whereas Microsoft introduced Zune in 2006. Microsoft has been continually competing (like many other companies) to break the hold Apple have on the market. But they perform the same function and have many similar elements, so there is greater scope for comparison. In user interface comparison alone, I believe it to currently be a ‘no-contest’. Zune looks better, is clearer and does it’s best to hide the necessary database structure through a well thought out layout and minimalist style.
Why Does it Not Work?
It’s fairly simple – iTunes looks too much like a database. There seems to have been little thought in the best way to deliver the content, and even though iTunes may hold the market, it does so (in my opinion) not due to the strengths of the individual product, but the overall Apple ecosystem, which is a shame. Apple have created some market changing devices and then employed someone with no understanding of design continuity to design their second most important piece of software.
Here are a few eloquent comments from the web regarding the disliking of iTunes:
“Today, the toxic waste of success cripples iTunes. There are times when I feel that iTunes has reached Windows Vista bloatware proportions: Increasingly non-sensical complexity, inconsistencies, layers of patches over layers of patches ending up in a structure so labyrinthine no individual can internalize it any longer. (Just like the Tax Code.)” Jean-Louis Gassée
“iTunes is getting long in the tooth. The cloud and social are the two Apple weaknesses, but iTunes is showing its age and over the years has become a bloated collection of functionalities…music store, video store, app store, mobile device manager, “social” network, and, oh, by the way, you can also use it to play your music. Spotify, Pandora, and Rd.io point the way to a different approach.” Jason Kottke
2. Mettler Toledo bC-U2 retail scale software
This is a personal dislike from the day job which involves me selling scientific and weighing equipment (please note these are my personal views and in no way representative of my employer). You can see all we do here. Part of our sales involve retail scales – sold to butchers or commercial customers who have to work out the weighing price of an item to the public.
The software image above is from the software we have to use to programme our advanced retail scales (image below)
What I dislike about the software is that it is unnecessarily difficult to use. Setting up the scale to print a receipt and label should be relatively straightforward, but the software interface, layout and usability is difficult to the point of being unusable.
What also doesn’t help is that it was designed primarily fr use in Germany where Metter Toledo retail have a much larger presence. Some parts of the English software version have been lost in translation (i.e. still in German) and this adds to the difficulty. I learned German in school (GCSE grade B no less), but remembering that “Ich reise in die Schule mit dem Bus” is not the same as understanding “Kennungen zum Datenaustausch zwischen Waage und PC.” Sadly if that was covered by my German teacher, then I was absent that day. Incidentally, the German translates as “Identifiers for data exchange between scale and PC.”
The navigation on the left side of the screen is clearly understood as relating to a particular issue, but when you move in to each area, achieving that particular goal is rather cumbersome.
I freely recognise that this issue I have is a very specific problem to a unique situation that the majority of people will not witness, particularly my customers. However, spending all day playing with X and Y co-ordinates to move the layout of a label could be more productively used if the software was easier to use.
That’s all for this post folks, read you next time.