I recently noticed something while using software products by Google, Apple, and other trend-setters in user interface design. I’m talking about…
User interface elements that disappear
I don’t know about you, but I am just tickled pink when I walk into the kitchen to look for the can opener, and can’t find it. (I could have sworn it was in THIS drawer. Or….maybe it was in THAT drawer?)
Sometimes I come BACK to the previous drawer, and see it right under my nose…it is as if an invisible prankster were playing tricks on me.
Oh how it makes me giggle like a baby who is playing peekaboo with mommy.
Not really. I lied. It makes me irrational. It makes me crazy. It makes me want to dismember kittens.
Introducing: Apple’s New Disappearing Scrollbar!
According to DeSantis Briendel, “A clean and uncluttered visual experience is a laudable goal, but not at the expense of an intuitive and useful interface tool. Making a user hunt around for a hidden navigation element doesn’t seem very user friendly to us. We hope developers will pull back from the disappearing scrollbar brink, and save this humble but useful tool.”
It gets worse. If you have ever had to endure the process of customizing a YouTube channel, you may have discovered that the button to edit your channel is invisible until you move your mouse cursor over it.
I observed much gnashing of teeth on the internet about this issue.
One frustrated user on the Google Product Forums was looking for the gear icon in hopes to find a way to edit his channel. To his remark that there is no gear icon, another user joked…
“That is because “the team” is changing the layout and operation of the site faster than most people change underwear.”
…which is a problem that I brought up in a previous blog about the arbitrariness of modern user interfaces.
There are those who love bringing up Minority Report – and claim that user interfaces will eventually go away, allowing us to just wave our hands in the air and speak naturally, and to communicate with gestures in thin air.
In Disappearing UI: You Are the Interface, the author describes (in utopian prose) a rosy future where interfaces will disappear, liberating us to interact with software naturally.
But what is “natural”?
What is natural for the human eye, brain, and hand is to see, feel, and hear the things that we want to interact with, to physically interact with them, and then to see, feel, and hear the results of that interaction. Because of physics and human nature, I don’t see this ever changing.
OK, sure. John Maeda’s first rule for simplicity is to REDUCE.
But, by “reduce”, I don’t think he meant…
play hide and seek with the edit button or make the scroll bar disappear while no one is looking.
Perhaps one reason Apple is playing the disappearing scroll bar trick is that they want us to start doing their two-finger swipe. That would be ok if everyone had already given up their mice. Not so fast, Apple!
Perhaps Apple and Google are slowly and gradually preparing us for a world where interfaces will dissolve away completely, eventually disappearing altogether, allowing us to be one with their software.
Seems to me that a few billions years of evolution should have some sway over how we prefer to interact with objects and information in the world.
I like to see and feel the knife peeling the skin off a potato. It’s not just aesthetics: it’s information.
I like seeing a person’s eyes when I’m talking to them. I like seeing the doorknobs in the room. I like knowing where the light switch is.
Apple, please stop playing hide-and-seek with my scroll bar.