An interesting article appeared in my Twitter timeline a few months back, the title of which had me intrigued right from the start: How Apple is Giving Design a Bad Name.
The authors, Don Norman and Bruce Tognazzini, put the case out there that Apple have forsaken their beautifully simple approach to usability that they have become synonymous for:
“Gone are the fundamental principles of good design: discoverability, feedback, recovery, and so on. Instead, Apple has, in striving for beauty, created fonts that are so small or thin, coupled with low contrast, that they are difficult or impossible for many people with normal vision to read.”
Strong words, given that design is at the heart of the corporation and that so many in the creative sectors worldwide are married to the brand, a relationship which started with going all doe-eyed and falling in love with the look and feel of a Mac that was miles away from the sterile grey or black boxes that the PC market was offering.
Likewise with the launch of the iPhone, such a game-changer in the mobile technology and telecoms market that it blew some clean out of the water (Blackberry) and set a standard that many others are still trying to follow.
It wasn’t all shallow vanity: Apple’s products worked as beautifully as they looked. The term “plug and play” may not have been unique to them, but they really understood what the potential was behind these three little words.
“Apple is destroying design. Worse, it is revitalising the old belief that design is only about making things look pretty.” the authors continue.
Ouch. “Making things look pretty.” Is that what design is all about?
They continue: “Design is a way of thinking, of determining people’s true, underlying needs and then delivering products and services that help them.” Now this resonates with me; this is why we set up Plain Creative. I may use this phrase again, guys (with appropriate credit, of course).
The article is a very good piece and worthy of many different strands of debate. One was around choice and application of system fonts.
“Today’s iPhones and iPads are a study in visual simplicity. So what if many people can’t read the text? It’s beautiful.”
Why write about this now? Well, a client phoned me yesterday and asked if the font I’d used on an image in a brochure could be made bolder or bigger; he wasn’t being pedantic or sticking his two-penny worth for the sake of it, he was just making a request. “Yes, of course, not a problem.” I replied.
“Really?” he said, “Are you sure?”
“Yes. You want to make sure it’s legible and I’m not going to be precious over it.”
“Oh. I was expecting you to tell me some designer speak reason why it couldn’t be done or it wouldn’t look right.”
OK, so the original font I’d chosen was a little on the lighter end of the scale but would have been fine; the client was just wanting to be on the safe side. He is the one buying the design services, the output is something that he is going to use to promote his business and he wants to have confidence in the collateral, something that he’s happy his audience will be able to read.
“So what if many people can’t read the text? It’s beautiful.”
Photograph: Mari Helin-Tuominen / Unsplash.com