A Scenic Tour of the Online World

The Importance of Good Design (And Usability)

Friday, February 19th, 2010

I just read yet another interesting article about how influential the design of Apple’s Website is. And like many of the others, I think this one misses a larger point to some degree.

Yes, it’s beautiful in a way that fits the “cultural aesthetic of the time,” the expectations of its audience, and the products and services it’s selling. But I think they’ve gone overboard in some ways, favoring simplicity in style over actual usability.

For example, yesterday I was trying figure out whether I’d thrown $20 away by buying the iWorks family pack instead of the single license. If my wife’s computer was too old to run iWorks09, then I’d have wasted the dough. Finding the minimum system requirements took half a dozen clicks and the same number of “it has to be here somewhere, doesn’t” thoughts before I realized I had to click Buy Now to get that level of information.

Balancing what looks good and what works well is hard, no doubt. But it’s also the key to a Website’s success. And I do think Apple’s done a great job with their site, but argue as to whether its influence is overstated. In the echo chamber that is the “Intertubes” once something is cited as an ideal, it’s cited over and over and over. Then it’s taken as gospel that adapting that design / coding tool / whatever is appropriate for every project. (The beauty and danger of viral …)

Apple’s site works for Apple. But if you don’t have that broad a range of products, and if your whole customer experience isn’t as consistently developed as Apple’s (think about their products, their packaging, their Website …) then don’t use their site as a model. Use it as inspiration.

Apple does get points for consistency, though. That hide-the-details-away approach has been part of the Apple way at least since 1993 when I first sat down at a Mac. (It was a Quadra 950, I think. Boy was it powerful …)

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