Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"Responsive design" doesn't mean what you think it means.

For some reason, somebody thought that "responsive" describes a user interface with a flexible layout that fits on screens of varying resolution and aspect ratio.  But it doesn't.  The word "layout" is missing from the phrase "responsive design."  Even "flexible" alone would be far superior to "responsive."

Responses come after events.  The simple presentation of a UI isn't an "event" that hits the UI, because the UI doesn't exist yet; its dimensions and layout have to be determined before it's presented.  THEN it's ready to respond.

A responsive design would be one that responds to user input or other events, using AJAX or some similar technique.

With so many words available to us, why would we label something with such a meaningless (or worse, incorrect) term?

Good GUI design is not skeuomorphism.

Many of us wanted Apple to reverse its embarrassing slide into amateurish, cartoonish interfaces; the much-derided "skeuomorphism."  Unfortunately Apple has also abandoned proper GUI design. Getting rid of tacky, asinine, and incorrect crap like controls disguised as the paint on a blackjack table is good. Getting rid of CONTROLS is stupid, and that is what Apple and Microsoft have done in a great many cases. Disguising controls as static text (or hiding them altogether or relying on secret "gestures") represents total ignorance of what made GUIs "revolutionary" to begin with. If you don't demarcate controls, they might as well not be there. Are users supposed to tap on every letter and glyph on the screen, looking for hidden goodies? Or swipe in every possible direction and every item on every screen? That's sheer stupidity.

"Flat" design suffers from other regressions. If a button is "flat", how do we know what state it's in? If it is rendered as something resembling a real button, it can be "up", depressed, or greyed out. One of its three possible states is clearly and instantly conveyed to the user. But if it's just a colored rectangle, what state is it in?

The question is where all of the decent designers have gone at these companies. Did they just get bored and quit altogether? The regressions at Microsoft and Apple in basic user interfaces just make you wonder how these bad ideas are percolating to the top. There are plenty of things to fix in both companies' products, without this desperate flailing to do something "different." Desperate and defective.