Designing for the change

 This entry was updated 11.8.13 to reflect Apple's knowledge base article on iWork.

 Once I wrote:

Cars, computers, UIs... these are things we make and may change rather quickly. In order to highlight the change, we tend to incorporate visual design to signify the change. "This is different!" we're saying. It's pretty amazing that we have design to help us communicate change.

If it's so amazing, why is it trivial to come up with examples of when it doesn't happen?

I'm thinking of Apple here, in part because they're so big, but it applies to just about any redesign rollout ever. Consider this: Apple has rolled out new versions of all of their apps - including Keynote and GarageBand, two I use - and features have been removed. Arguably significant features, too - per Matt Haughey, GarageBand has lost nearly all of its podcast-specific tools (!)

There was a good discussion about why  this may have happened on a recent episode of The Talk Show. If I may paraphrase John Gruber and Dan Frommer, there was a word of caution conveyed: if you use Apple's apps, be prepared for features to go away in the future.

The idea of removing features is not flawed, although it's questionable.  My bugaboo is with the fact that Apple did not communicate these changes in advance or during the change. Instead in the case of the iWork apps (Pages, Numbers, Keynote), Apple released a knowledge base article stating what was coming. While there's a vague laundry list of upcoming stuff, they say:

In rewriting these applications, some features from iWork ’09 were not available for the initial release. We plan to reintroduce some of these features in the next few releases and will continue to add brand new features on an ongoing basis.

Mind you, Apple designed the change, but they did a poor job of designing for the change itself; this knowledge base article came out over a week after the apps did. The way it goes down, there is a massive amount of work that goes into designing the change, and then a switch is flipped. All done, and maybe a note about things later. But it's not enough.


Consider this quite realistic scenario. You use Keynote all the time. It's your go-to. You have automatic app updates enabled because, well, you're advised that it's easier to do so (and it is, arguably). A "stunning" new update is installed overnight and the next morning when you open the app, not only does it look different but some of the features you use are gone.

There is a moment there, a key one, that Apple is ignoring. It's ironic, because it's a very human moment: it's one that can be loaded with confusion, comfort, reassurance, understanding, concern, hate, or love. Apple bets hard on the beauty of its tools, and attempts to provide some reassurance through tutorials - but nothing so hand holding as to say, "Here's what's gone and here's why."

The week-later article is an attempt to assuage these concerns, but consider this: one would only find this article if she actively sought it out. Apple didn't make this a big deal. It smacks of a reaction, and isn't proactive in the slightest.

Christina Wodtke's piece on change, which I will reference again and again and again because it is damn good, applies here.  In talking about Twitter's UI changes for conversations - those infamous blue lines - she said:

Perhaps [Twitter] didn’t spend enough time hypnotizing the users that the blue line is beautiful. Or perhaps they just didn’t warn people change was coming....

I would estimate both are true. There's the hypnotizing part (which I bet Kathy Sierra would rightfully take to task) and there's also the warning part. The change, again, was simply put out there even though Twitter knew about it for probably a long time .

How inhumane is that? 

There's a degree of arrogance at play here, a degree in which companies like this are expressing their superiority when it comes to knowledge of the people using their services and products. Sometimes they're right, and they make tons of money and have happy fans. Sometimes they're wrong, and they still make tons of money and piss off everyone.

It's particularly egregious of Apple to behave this way, because of their heretofore stance as advocates for people. We've seen it in the past: Human Interface Guidelines. Computing for the rest of us. I'm not thrilled in part because I do like beautiful objects - who doesn't? - but don't want to sacrifice ability  for aesthetics  and may have no realistic alternatives. (I mean, a Samsung phone and Android? Really?)

I digress. 

Like anything else in life, not choosing to do something is actually a choice. Thus, it is essential for designers to stand up for their users and design for the act of changing, and not just the change itself. Not doing so is irresponsible, disrespectful, and arrogant.