Gruber: ‘There is a thing to being “Mac-like”’

John Gruber, with guest Jason Snell, on his podcast The Talk Show with John Gruber:

There is a thing to being “Mac-like”. And there was, and it was strong. It’s literally what kept Apple alive.

If Mac-likeness hadn’t been an important thing, there’s no reason everybody wouldn’t have switched to Windows at the time — that there was more to it than, ‘OK, you’ve got a rectangular window and the windows all have “close” buttons and “zoom” buttons, and then there’s a menu bar with an agreed upon set of typical things like “file”, “edit”, “font”. You double-click on an app. There’s a mouse that moves around. You can select text. There’s a scroll bar over on the side you can drag up-and-down to move up-and-down on a document. And there you go — there’s a GUI. If you can use one, you can use any one and that’s all there is to it.’

It is true that that is the description of the modern graphical user interface of a windowing system. But there’s so much more to the Mac-way of doing things and of organizing things. And of feeling at home. It’s such an amazing thing when you feel at home in an app you’ve never used before because it uses all these familiar conventions. Those conventions went so much deeper than just draggable windows with a “close” button and a menu bar.

This is a great discussion of the level of detail and consideration for human interface guidelines. I encourage you to give it a list. It struck me as I closely followed Twitter’s branding guidelines for the redesigned footer of Zero Counts.

I became a Mac convert in 2004 with the iBook G4. Before that, I was put off by the consistency of Mac apps, which is a wild thing to consider. I mistook variety in user interfaces for freedom, and thus, the Mac as a restrictive system. This notion was reinforced by the Mac’s minimal amount of hardware customization. Together, the Mac was but a toy for casual users. I had completely missed the point of the Mac, and apparently had no consideration for elegant design.

The level of consistency displayed in a majority of the most popular Mac apps makes it all the more apparent when something doesn’t quite feel right. Not to mention when something is completely disorienting. The app that jumps out to me most is Pixelmator.

Pixelmator includes loads of floating windows and tools. If I’m not mistaken, this was inspired by the original Photoshop GUI. I’ve been a big fan of Pixelmator, but I’ve always felt lost in it’s GUI.

Now, with the single window design of the new Pixelmator Pro, I feel at home. It’s not to say I’m completely familiar with all of the ins and outs, but I was able to immediately jump in and find my way around.

As the successor to a heavily used app, reworking the entire GUI is incredibly risky. But the ease at which a longtime Pixelmator user can dive into Pixelmator Pro with little effort is a testament to the macOS HIG.

Tagged , , , ,