the evenings out here - Thoughts, rants and musings about absolutely everything except photography. Or cats.


in Design & Usability , Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Back when I were a lad, Macs - and Apple stuff in general - were very much a niche thing. Used mainly in design, pre-press and academic circles, they were nevertheless respected, although correctly seen as vastly overpriced (unless you had an educational discount). They were attractive because they were extremely well designed, and had a number of killer features, such as WYSIWYG text and graphic editing. They also featured zen-like design hardware and software, which basically got out of your way and let you concentrate on your tasks. Around the mid 90s, things started to go a little wrong, but even so, the basic philosophy (which owed far more to Jef Raskin than Steve Jobs) held good. So what went wrong ? An 2007 iMac compared to a 1987 MacPlus is a bit like Paris Hilton compared to Ingrid Bergmann. The 2007 model screams "look at me!! I'm dazzling! aren't I coooool ??? look at all the cool people who hang out with me!!". The 1987 model was subtle, refined, and discrete. The Mac has become a fashion statement, a way to look wickedly on edge, to show how different you are. The fact that form has totally taken over from function seems to have totally bypassed the current generation of designers and mavens, who see no flaws, and tolerate no criticism. Of any Apple product. Yesterday I was in a room with a small group of talented people. All of us demonstrated our slavish devotion to fashion with our $100 cool-tax black MacBooks. At some point, there was a suggestion that we should copy the latest Apple fad, the utterly pointless cover flow. I decided to keep quiet about that one, but later there was some comment about how the iPod is the epitome of UI design. I dared to voice my end-user opinion (which apparently I'm not entitled to have) that the scrolling lists, which may have been fine for the 5Gb model, are perhaps a little stretched on the 60Gb model. I got torn to shreds for daring to doubt the word of the Prophet, er, sorry, I mean the genius of Apple. I doubt that the same comment about a Creative MP3 GUI would have even registered anything other than a complicit smirk. This stuff worries me, seriously. Good design these days seems to equal "copy Apple", full stop, and good design at Apple is becoming increasingly rare (striking design is not necessarily good design). This isn't particularly about my meeting yesterday, and is not specifically a criticism of the people involved, who are doing great work. But I'm beginning to see the day when I'm going to ask "do you use Macs?", and if the answer is "yes", slamming the phone down. In the design world, "Mac user" is converging with "slavish imitator".