The whole OS and almost every application looks and feels the same, as if a single team developed the whole thing, thanks to Apple HI Guidelines1. Official guidelines for user interface design made it possible for users to actually use most Mac-applications in a very same way, creating a seamless and comfortable experience in the end. Users are able to anticipate how system behaves and what to expect from its applications. In fact, consistency dramatically improves learnability and usability of interacting with the system.
Installing and uninstalling applications is simply drag-and-drop. It can’t get much simpler and more intuitive than that. In fact, it’s hard to make any errors here, e.g. selecting some wrong option in a drop-down menu or clicking occasionally on the cancel-button. Quick and simple.
3. Effective and appropriate metaphors
Mac effectively uses the power of unambiguous metaphors. The different overviews in the OS just work. Exposé2 does the right thing, Time Machine3 uses a 3D view where appropriate (none of that 3D-flip ‘just for the sake of it’-nonsense of Vista). Depth in Time Machine represents the location in time and therefore uses a neat metaphor helping the user, and browsing your albums with Cover Flow4 in iTunes (and Finder) feels almost like the real thing.
4. Informative error reporting on-demand
Contrary to other user interfaces, Mac-applicatinos display user notifications only when something goes wrong, not permanent baloons5 when some process is being started or finished. Think of it, do we really need someone to tell us when something goes the way it should?
5. Hiding the technical details
Manually having to defragment a hard drive? Hmm, not here. On Mac users use technical tools by communicating with simple and memorable metaphors. Most users are not savvy and they have no clue how to take care of technical details so why should a user interface prompt them to do this?
6. Fitts’ Law
Essentially, the famous Fitts’ Law says that users are more productive with the mouse when they have less distance to travel and a larger target to click on to do their tasks. Mac’s design engineers have incorporated this rule in their design: almost all application menus are attached to the top of the screen, rather than to the applications’ windows. It improves the usability and reduces screen clutter. Compared to other user interfaces, regarding Fitts’ Law Mac performs better.
7. User input feedback
Mac applications have no useless “OK” and “Apply”-buttons and changes are applied immediately and on the fly. Thus the system seems to be more responsive and requires less input from the users, making user feedback as effective as possible.
Clicking the checkbox here makes the tab bar show up in the browser window instantly. (Firefox)
8. User support and navigation
Remember Clippy7? Mac has its own (OS wide) version as well, called Spotlight8. The only difference is that it’s actually a lot more helpful and versatile. And damn speedy too! Really, navigating an OS hasn’t ever been that straightforward. It does calculations as well and launching applications is as easy as typing in its name and hitting Enter (see screenshot below).
Mac doesn’t force you to focus on a single window, but keeps them all visible in the background ensuring a more efficient workflow. However this might be a thing of taste and getting used to.
10. Even kernel panic looks nice!
A funny but still nice example of Apple’s attention to detail. On the rare occasions when Mac crashes, it still does so in a respectable manner. Usability-wise it’s not perfect, since it doesn’t let the user know what went wrong and only asks the user to reboot the system. Still, beautiful and elegant.
I’m not saying Mac’s user interface is perfect. There is probably no perfect solution which would satisfy everyone. Yet Mac has done it right a lot of times, at least from the usability perspective. What do you think? Do you have examples when Mac fails from the usability point of view? And how exactly is Mac’s user interface better than other interfaces?
This post is one of the finalists of our guest author contest10. Over three weeks selected top-10-lists and discussion articles will be published. To rate the articles we’ll analyze their popularity, users activity, quality of backlinks, traffic and further data.
- 1 http://developer.apple.com/documentation/UserExperience/Conceptual/AppleHIGuidelines/
- 2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expos%C3%A9_(Mac_OS_X)
- 3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_Machine_(Apple_software)
- 4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cover_Flow
- 5 http://www.downloadsquad.com/2006/09/13/disable-those-annoying-windows-balloons/
- 6 http://apeatling.wordpress.com/2007/04/15/tackling-mac-os-x-leopards-finder/
- 7 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Office_Assistant
- 8 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spotlight_(software)
- 9 http://flickr.com/photos/alfonsohuby/2590623434/
- 10 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/07/17/write-a-guest-post-and-win-apple-macbook-air/