Design is about the juggling of various often competing constraints

Screen Shot 2017-10-02 at 18.35.44

“Once upon a time, Apple could do little wrong.” I wonder when that was? Having just read about the design and launch of the Mac – not enough memory, no cursor keys, etc – it wasn’t then. Or how about the Lisa, or Apple III? Or diluting the brand with clones? Or the “egg freckles” Newton? Or the puck mouse? Or the cube Mac? Or the firewire only iPod? Or the Motorola ROKR? How about the amazing iPhone, with no 3G and no apps – hell not even copy and paste? Or how Steve Jobs was sure innovating, look at the iPad- certainly an oversized iPhone was like a herald from the future…

And all that whining about the notch. Look, until they can build a screen magically transparent to cameras and sensors from the back, it’s either going to be a notch, a line making the screen smaller, or some kind of ridiculous periscope. Here they reclaim some of the space.

Design is about the juggling of various often competing constraints. Some of the constraints I might wish they weren’t so beholden to, like the need for the thinner thinner phone. Other ones seem frustrating too, like to compete in the marketplace they need visual hooks and changes for their own sake. Or the constraints of history, like the iTunes mess – I mean I’m afraid of them listening too much like blowhards like this guy, because I’m certain whatever replaced iTunes would lack flexibilities that the crusty legacy stuff enjoys.


The above was written in response to the recent whining about the iPhone X notch and other minor infractions that are marginally annoying at best.

Kirk is right of course, as he usually is, and in my view I say again that you only need to look at the competition to see how good Apple is at design. The company has moved mobile and fixed computing from a point where the products were commodities that had no investment in actually working with a human being to devices that we don´t even need to think about using.

Where Apple does rightly suffer is that the company spends a huge amount of time blowing its own aluminium design trumpet and so with that will inevitably come criticism. It is almost begging for it.

Categories: Apple, Articles

6 replies

  1. As I sent Shaun the link to the original article, I thought I should respond. Not that I agreed 100% with the article, but it did make some valid points, I thought. But as usual, Kirk and I agree and disagree.

    Certainly Apple has had its share of design failures. But for the past 10 years at least, Apple has been held up as a beacon (too much?) of design excellence. And they must think so themselves to watch Jony Ives videos. That said, I love my iMac and my MacBook Pro before that. My iPhones and iPads have been solid, well built tech. And for the most part, macOS and iOS are excellent, at least compared to all of the other operating systems I’ve used (don’t have enough fingers). But with that comes an expectation.

    The notch surprised me. No, it’s not horrible, but it would have been so easy to make it a non-issue. Simply make that strip out of bounds for developers and leave the information there. Currently, some apps leave the information strip alone and some, mainly games, make use of the extra screen space. I have no problem with the down swipe from the left and right sides doing different things. But when I see screen shots showing an added stripe on the top and bottom in order to square off the screen, I wonder what the big deal about edge to edge is. What did bother me was how the notch was presented, as if it was a feature. That to me was very telling.

    Yes, design is about competing factors. But good design makes those competing factors blend in a way that the user doesn’t notice that competition.

    • I agreed with Shaun’s comment that those videos are pretty insufferable and scoff-worthy – some great parodies have come up from them.

      So the notch: if there’s a counterbalancing stripe at the bottom JUST for symmetry, that’s kind of dumb to me.

      But I disagree that the sides of the notch should be a “no man’s land” except for the system elements.”When you prevent dumb things, you prevent some clever things” is an adage too rarely followed by Apple, and if an app can do something interesting there, great!

      I’m of two minds about how the notch was presented as a feature (disclaimer, I’m not even sure I watched the video in question in full, so this is second hand) One is: it’s a chip on the shoulder. In the same way they called the 5C “unapologetically plastic” (and it’s still one of my favorite shell designs), they’re saying “yeah, this is an unavoidable compromise, this is the path we took, we aren’t going to pretend there is a magic solution for one way transparent materials here”. I think that’s kind of commendable.

      The other take is, a visual glitch isnt a bug it’s a feature, in that people who like to flaunt their latest and greatest to people looking over the shoulder can more easily do so. I’ve lived a life of privilege enough that such ostentatious displays don’t hold a lot of appeal, but I understand different people might have different constraints and pressures in their life.

  2. Let me tell you about a design decision. I have an iPhone and an iPad. I keep them in docks next to my iMac. Prior to iTunes 12.7, I would open iTunes, go to the Apps>Update tab, and click Update All. Then I would sync my iPhone and iPad. That updated the apps and backed up both devices. Yes, I’m a bit anal when it comes to backups. The devices themselves didn’t need to be touched.

    Now, using iTunes 12.7, I have to pick up my iPhone, open the App Store, open the Updates tab, select Update All, then put the iPhone back in its dock. Then I have to pick up my iPad, open the App Store, open the Updates tab, select Update All, then put the iPhone back in its dock. Then I get into iTunes on my iMac and sync both devices.

    Yes, I deliberately wrote out the steps for each device separately, even though they’re identical, because that’s what I have to do.

    I’m all for shrinking iTunes, but the latest move has more than doubled the steps I used to use. In my book, that’s bad design.

    Remember when everyone complained about Windows 8 removing the Start button and Microsoft added it back in Windows 8.1 but it just brought up the same start screen as Windows 8? Everyone thought that Microsoft in effect said “Want a Start button? Well here you go. F%^& you.” I feel the same way about what Apple just did with iTunes. “You all complained about how bloated iTunes was? Well, here you go. No more App Store or App Management. F%^& you.”

  3. A late addition. What about the rechargeable Magic Mouse where the charge cord plugs into the bottom so you can’t use the mouse while it’s charging? I know they couldn’t have the cord plug in the front, but I’m sure they could have figured out a way to have the cord plug into the back or even the side near the back. It almost looks like they’d want you to buy two.

    • Yeah, that’s a pretty good example of aesthetic over functionality, though I notice few rechargable products are fully usable as they are recharging. I could imagine someone developing a compulsion over it…

      • It’s like a rechargeable electric razor. If you need it and it doesn’t run off the chord, you’re stuck.

        I switched to a Bluetooth Logitech Anywhere mouse because the magic mouse can’t detect both a left click and a right click at the same time. Not too good for gaming. The Logitech mouse has the USB plug in the front and works plugged in. I miss the gestures a bit but not all that much. Certainly not a deal breaker.

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