Apple Design Guidelines

Last week Apple released the Apple Software Design Guidelines document. I’ve only just skimmed it, but it looks like the best document from Apple in years.

Take this little bit of advice:

“When saving files of your own document types, include a file type, creator type, and filename extension for your file. It is best to include all three of these identifiers to ensure maximum compatibility with other platforms.”

Well, yeah. Finally some solid, practical recommendations from Apple that take into account the whole system, not a narrow set of APIs.

A couple of years ago I read the Microsoft article “Inductive User Interface Guidelines”. The principles from the document showed up extensively in Windows XP and will be even more prevalent in Longhorn as Microsoft attempts to cloud the difference between web and traditional applications. It struck me as an interesting approach, one that clearly has benefits for some types of users and some applications. I wrote about it a little last year in a post called “Inductive vs rich user interface design”.

Now take that feedback in the context of this article from AskTog:

“Usability and learnability are not mutually exclusive. First, decide which is the most important; then attack both with vigor. Ease of learning automatically coming at the expense of ease of use is a myth.”

Apple has almost completely ignored the user interface principles that Microsoft is pushing. Here’s a quote from the new Apple design guidelines document:

“Allow the user, not the computer, to initiate and control actions. Some applications attempt to assist the user by offering only those alternatives deemed good for the user or by protecting the user from having to make detailed decisions. This approach mistakenly puts the computer, not the user, in control.”

The Apple document doesn’t contain anything “new”, but it’s a great set of principles and suggestions gathered from other sources and put in a succinct format. The new Apple is not without it’s recent user interface stumbles, but it’s nice to know that overall they have the best grasp of the big design picture that they’ve ever had.