Apple is a darling of the design world, and for good reason. It consistently makes products with user interfaces so natural, toddlers can use them. A look into some of the factors behind Apple’s UX design reveals how its techniques can be applied in many other realms:
Apple is notorious for prototyping. By the time an idea makes it into a product, it has likely been built from scratch several times, and been through hundreds of rounds of iteration. Legendary are the stories of products being developed for years-only to be scrapped because they couldn’t be done to Apple’s high standards.
An “MRL” is an acronym we use at Worrell meaning “metaphor from real life,” and Apple has a clear understanding of how these apply in UX design. Gone are the days of abstract user interfaces, when conventions like the mouse, keyboard and hierarchical file systems were the norm. These tools seem unwieldy and impractical once you’ve used the iPad. In iBooks, you see your books on a shelf. Touch the one you want to read, and it folds open in front of you. A natural metaphor means users don’t need to learn or even remember how to do something, because it’s so obvious it couldn’t be done any other way. Combine these metaphors with intuitive gestures like pinch-zoom and flick-scroll, and you’ve got a killer natural user interface.
In UX-speak, the term “modal” means you’ve got something that limits what a user can do, such as a dialog box that must be closed before moving to another task. Apple has masterfully exploited the dynamic nature of a color display to create hundreds of bite-sized modal interactions-apps. Apps really only do one thing well, helping users focus on discrete tasks. Each of these “modes” has a distinct visual design that reinforces its specific purpose. With a growing body of research demonstrating that “multitasking” is not all it’s cracked up to be, modality helps provide much-needed mental clarity.
The transitions used when moving from one app to another on an Apple product not only look cool, they’re also critical in providing orientation for users. When you open an app, it zooms to the foreground, and the other app icons zoom past you. Close the app; it zooms to the background, and the other app icons zoom past you from behind, landing back on the desktop. These transitions establish a mental model of 3D space, and work in harmony to provide a spatial map of the interface.
Apple is great at anticipating what a user will need to do next, and then providing a means to accomplish this task. Remember when it was difficult to get music on your MP3 player? Now you can buy and download directly from the device. If Apple designed a razor, you can bet there would be a way to order blades built into the handle. Anticipating customers’ needs isn’t just good business-it’s a better user experience.