The Bane Of Reality

Fiction is not enough. Apparently the masses want reality. The superheroes and master spies have to be explained and “fit in” the real world (by the way, thanks to the people who did Iron Sky, it was a breather of absurdity and laughter).

In software terms, it gave us (rolling drums) skeuomorphism, the art to mimick real objects to help us poor humans deal with apparently complex functions.

Last one to date, the podcast application from Apple, and it looks like a tape deck. Seriously. Man, I mastered the art of obscure VCR controls a long time ago… And now you want to simplify my life by analoguing a defunct technology?

Don’t get me wrong, I really think interfaces should be thought about and self-explanatory, but really? Who uses a binder these days? So what’s the point of the spirals on the left of your writing interface? I’ve actually never used an agenda that I recall, so why give me that faux-leather look?

Some ideas are not based in the real world, but they quickly become THE way to do it, like pull-for-refresh, for instance, or pinch to zoom in and out. What’s the real world equivalent of those? Do we need any equivalent?

I guess I’m not a natural target for software anyway: when I take a look at a program, I want to know what it does for me. Let’s say I want an app that gives me remote control of my coffee maker. That way, I’m heading back home after a tiring day, and I want a coffee that’s strong (more coffee in it) and has been finished 5 minutes before I get home (because coffee has to cool down a little bit). Do I want to drag and drop the number of spoons from one half of the screen to the next to simulate the amount to pour in? Do I want the same kind of clumsy timers-with-arrows that exists already on these machines? Nope.

But I want to know if the coffee maker can make me coffee (because it’s all washed up and ready to go), the amount of coffee left in the reservoir, as well as the water level, I want to set up the amount in as little movements as possible while being totally reliable and I want to be able to just say “ready 5 minutes before I’m in” and let the location manager deal with it (one man can dream, right?)

There is a history behind physical controls. Some designers, ergonomists, and engineers took the time to fine tune them for daily use (with mixed results), and the ones that stayed with us for 20 years or more stayed because people “got them”, not because they liked them or thought it was a good analogy to whatever they were using before. Thank goodness, we’re not driving cars with reins-analogues, or bicycle-horns-analogues.

It’s time to do the same with software. Until we have 3d-manipulation interfaces, we’re stuck in Flatland. And that means that any control that was built for grabbing with multiple fingers at several depths, is out (you hear me rotating dial analogue?).

If you want your users to feel comfortable with your software, make sure the function of it is clear to the intended audience. Then prettify it with the help of a computer designer. Different world, different job.

  

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