Branding and UI Design

I have always been a fan of the Mac. The notion that a machine is there to help me be ultra creative is the kind of thing I will always gravitate toward.

What I don’t like is how too many applications for the Mac are slowly starting to look the same. Here’s what I mean:

The granddaddy of them all: Xcode – the developer tool most people use to create Mac apps:

Apple’s latest app that lets you create your own website—iWeb:

The coolest presentation building software on the market—Keynote:

The core of the Mac user experience—The Finder:

A pretty damn good browser—Safari:

The built-in and all-around quality email app—Mail:

The best personal photography cataloging and publishing tool—iPhoto:

And the top icon organization tool for the Mac—Pixadex:

Now I’m sure you’ve noticed a theme here. Why are they so similar and therefore boring? Apple goes to hideous lengths to incorporate brand into their marketing, their physical store designs, their packaging, their product design. Even developers outside of Apple are aping the whole source list on the left, big space on the right for content. It’s like the web design paradigms of 1996 have taken over Apple’s UI department.

Now I know it’s great to have consistency but that’s really only half of the job that’s being done here. Think about this:

You are buying iWork 06. In fact, it’s the first time you’re purchasing the sofware. You’ve seen the legendary Stevenotes and the online tour showcasing all the badass transitions. You’re ready to throw your crazy fonts in there and other multimedia elements like flash or quicktime movies right in the slide. You’re also dreaming of playing music behind the slides or even inserting a podcast that’s relevant to the subject.

And then you install iWork 06.

What happens next is the ultra-boring interface staring at you.

Where’s the drama? Where’s the sense that you’re about to build something that’ll actually make people ooh and aah at your slickness? It’s not there.

Every year Apple gives awards to the top developers for different categories. One of them is user experience. The last recipient was Delicious Monster for their app Delicious Library.

Now, would you be surprised that Apple went ahead and hired the guy who made that interface? I hope that’s a sign of things to come. That Apple will loosen up and really wow us with some incredibly inspiring UI ideas instead of more of the same.