April 2, 2010

I wish…

…that browsers would stop play­ing this stu­pid zero-sum game of strip­ping out all the UI. Opera 10.51, you’re ugly. It’s as if a pro­gram­mer dragged a brows­er com­po­nent into a blank form and com­piled. The Opera but­ton is prac­ti­cal­ly invis­i­ble, and no, that’s not a good thing.

Some­one drag these inno­v­a­tive UI design­ers away from the prime real-estate of your apps before they hurt some­body. The prob­lem with your gen­er­al­i­sa­tions — in the case of Fire­fox, oh, no one uses the His­to­ry menu so we’ll hide the View, Edit, Tools, Help, Book­marks and File menus as well — is that you start cater­ing to the ‘dumb’ audi­ence, who would be bet­ter off learn­ing a lit­tle com­plex­i­ty in the long term. This is why it’s zero-sum.

What makes this whole thing so bizarre is that these opti­mi­sa­tions are focussed on sav­ing small amounts of screen space on desk­tops where the mon­i­tors are increas­ing­ly large and high-res. Mobile != iPhone != Net­book != Desk­top. Don’t apply the same set of real-estate rules to the desk­top as the iPhone — they’re a total­ly dif­fer­ent envi­ron­ment, and any user who expects the app to be exact­ly the same is unre­al­is­tic. The Fen­nec team under­stood this, the Opera Mobile team under­stood this, but the desk­top UI design­ers seem amazed and daz­zled by the idea of sav­ing 5px of ver­ti­cal space on a mon­i­tor that aver­ages 768px tall.

The essen­tial jug­gling game here is bal­anc­ing the expo­sure of fea­tures with ini­tial visu­al com­plex­i­ty. If you’re a long term user (>6 months) of an app, how much visu­al atten­tion do you pay to an area of the app you don’t use? I would think the major­i­ty of peo­ple gloss over the details, just like I don’t visu­al­ly recog­nise the His­to­ry menu when going for Tools. Does His­to­ry get the way? No. Would I care if it’s removed? Prob­a­bly not. Should you nuke the entire menu bar to solve the prob­lem of one word being there that I already don’t notice? Err…

Leave my menus alone, stop remov­ing my book­marks tool­bars, and get off my lawn.

posted by Andrew

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