Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

If you buy through a BGR link, we may earn an affiliate commission, helping support our expert product labs.

Famed Apple designer says the iPhone UI is a design fail – here’s why he’s wrong

Published May 10th, 2019 5:06PM EDT

In a famous 2003 interview with The New York Times, Steve Jobs laid out his — and by extension, Apple’s — design philosophy.

“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like,” Jobs said. “People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

True to form, Apple’s attention to detail is arguably unrivaled across the industry. While Apple’s elegant design is readily apparent when one compares iOS to some of the wonky UIs we see from Android, Apple’s obsession with design extends far beyond software and encompasses the materials used in its products and even the way its products are packaged.

Having said that, there are some who take the position that Apple has lost its way with respect to design. To this end, former Apple designer Don Norman — who quite literally wrote the book on intuitive and user-friendly software design — recently penned an interesting piece for FastCompany arguing that many of the designs we see in everyday objects are simply not designed with the elderly in mind. The issue is only compounded by the fact that humans today are living longer than ever before.

As a representative example, Norman notes that some products contain “critical instructions in tiny fonts with very low contrast.”

So what does this have to do with Apple?

Well, Norman specifically takes umbrage with the iPhone’s display:

Take the screen design for Apple’s phones. The designers at Apple apparently believe that text is ugly, so it should either be eliminated entirely or made as invisible as possible. Bruce Tognazzini and I, both former employees of Apple, wrote a long article on Apple’s usability sins ,which has been read by hundreds of thousands of people. Once Apple products could be used without ever reading a manual. Today, Apple’s products violate all the fundamental rules of design for understanding and usability, many of which Tognazzini and I had helped develop. As a result, even a manual is not enough: all the arbitrary gestures that control tablets, phones, and computers have to be memorized. Everything has to be memorized.

It’s an interesting point but I ultimately find Norman’s critique unpersuasive. The gestures Apple implemented on the iPhone X, for example, aren’t all arbitrary and lend themselves to an improved user experience. And sure, some gestures have to be memorized, but it’s not anything that most people, or even children, can’t acclimate themselves to within an hour of regular use. Additionally, as devices become more advanced, the way users interact with said devices inevitably becomes a bit more complex. This isn’t a sign of things regress but rather progress.

Norman’s overall point is well taken insofar that design should account for individuals who perhaps lack the vision and dexterity of the average person. That said, the iPhone — which has any number of accessibility features built right into iOS — doesn’t seem to be a device worthy of criticism in this regard.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.

Latest News