I was wondering about what made iOS easy to use, even as early as 2007, when Apple made touchscreen phones mainstream. Users were surprised by the large multi-touch screen, which did not need a physical keyboard to perform actions. Everything was through on-screen buttons. So, how was this new input method so readily and easily accepted by the masses, most of whom had no prior experience using digital interfaces? This is where Apple’s skeuomorphic design language and their laser-like focus on User Experience helped propel the iPhone’s sales and acceptance as the benchmark to beat for the competition.
2007 was a time when digital interfaces weren’t as prevalent as today. No iPad, no large screen smartphones, no digital assistants and no consumer usable cloud computing. In essence, everything was still dependent on physical objects like notepads, pocket calendars, QWERTY keypad digital diaries etc. To maintain the familiarity of objects on and off screen was of paramount importance at that time.
Human beings are poor at adapting quickly to change. Imagine the iPhone being introduced with today’s Flat UI; mass panic, widespread hate and poor reviews would have been the result. Introducing such a new design language in such a new device would have overwhelmed us. It would’ve been tough to understand which elements were buttons and which were actionable areas. But, with skeumorphic design, the elements resemble real world objects; something that we are used to. Buttons look like real buttons, simulating the same details like height, texture, highlights and shadows. They were even animated to mimic what a real button looks like when pressed. The notepad app looked like an actual paper pad, flipping through pages in the calendar app looked like flipping pages in a real calendar and so on. I think it is this familiarity which gave early users the confidence to use the device.
The takeaway? Users resist change; it has to be a gradual transition from the known and comfortable into the new and improved. If that is not ensured, our users might feel like they’ve been left out to dry, that their needs weren’t in the company’s interests. As designers, we have to keep this psychological “limitation” of humans in mind when we design anything, be it digital interfaces or a new way to perform a traditional task.
Thats the important thing I learnt of late and wanted to share it with you. Cheers!