If you know the actual me, you know that I've been on (what feels like) a perpetual rant about how my feed reader has been overtaken by the flat design vs. skeuomorphism non-debate debate.
I too hate the leather bound appointment book and calendar on my Mac. I wouldn't even buy paper calendars or appointment books that look like that crap. Thanks, Apple, for thinking I'm a 65-year-old white man tycoon with a paperweight collection. But I digress.
I finally stumbled across the best post on the great flat vs. skeuomorphic debate by the wise Matt Gemmell, who sums it up like this:
Any backlash against embellished design itself is by definition misguided. The deeper problem is injudicious design, which excessive skeuomorphism can be emblematic of. Design which falsely promotes one embodiment over the essence of content and function. A lack of creativity and insight, masquerading as a deliberate aesthetic choice.
That is the issue, and that’s what is anathema to people like Jony Ive – and probably to you too.
But while I was reading on and silently cheering, I stumbled across this line which killed me:
I think we’ve been trying to get to less adorned, more information-centric interfaces for quite some time, but we’re still making the same tired old arguments from the golden age of human-computer interaction, about how humans need faux three-dimensional cues about the affordances of on-screen objects. Buttons apparently have to look “pushable”, or no-one will push them. [emphasis mine]
The day this post popped up on reading list, I had just been usability testing an app where THE BUTTON DID NOT LOOK PUSHABLE. My participants were missing it, and then when they figured it out (or were prompted), they said (I'm paraphrasing here) "Lady, that's no button. That's an icon or...something."
Immediately I was all "this guy doesn't know users." You know, in the way of all UX people, where one gets indignant about usability testing, talking to users, how no one does it, etc.....which I only 1/3 believe anyway, but hey, I WAS MIFFED.
Then I continued to read, and felt sheepish as he was actually critiquing my unpushable button:
All we need is an invitation, in the form of icons or labels or animations which imply functionality, and a consistency of presentation which allows us to make a good guess about what we can interact with.
My "doesn't look like you can push it" button looked nothing like a button. At one point it did...it was a rectangular shape with rounded edges and an barely-there light blue border. It said "Track." When you clicked it, it said "Tracked."
The button in the design I was testing? It had been compromised by a lot of factors and competing needs. It had to get smaller, had to fit on every row of a table, there was an existing icon design from an old app, and no time/money....I could go on.
Anyway, in the design I tested, the "Track" button was a small, flat, square gray thing with some dots on it. When you pushed it, it didn't indicate that anything happened. It was a flop. It was a flop because it had no label. It was a flop because the icon wasn't clear and couldn't stand on its own. There was nothing about it that looked interactive. An action-oriented label could've helped, a more meaningful icon design that animated to show that it did something....heck some rounded corners and a dropshadow would've probably gone a long way to help. This wasn't the fault of skeuomorphism (the icon looked like animal tracks!) or flat design (this sucker was literally flat!). This was a classic case of bad design.
So, read Tail Wagging. Absorb it. And don't design bad buttons. (Or if you do, usability test it!)