Opinionated »

Dr. Drang:

There’s been a tendency in recent years for reviewers of Mac and iOS software to heap praise on “opinionated design.” This phrase can usually be translated as “software that doesn’t allow much user customization.” For software that isn’t used often or isn’t used for long stretches at a time, a lack of customization options is no problem—it’s not worth spending a lot of time tweaking a program you spend little time with. But for bread-and-butter applications, like text editors, mail clients, calendars, and web browsers, tweaking the settings is as important as adjusting the driver’s seat in your car. You want to be comfortable with things you spend a lot of time with.

I know I’ve used that phrase in that way, but let’s get back to Herr Snowman:

Of course, the 2–3 things you want to change aren’t the same as the 2–3 things I want to change, so developers have to offer a multitude of options to cover all the bases. When presented with a long list of possible customizations, the possible reactions are

  • Oh boy! Look at all the customizations I can do.
  • Oh shit! Look at all the customizations I have to do.

The first thing I thought of when I read Drang’s piece was this screen in iOS 7:

There’s no doubt in my mind that Apple wanted iOS 7 to feel opinionated, but its design choices led to issues for many users, so the company keeps cramming more toggles in the Accessibility panel.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Apple is taking the time to make sure as many people as possible can us iOS, regardless of any physical impairments.

Increasingly, however, I fear that Apple makes big, bold statements in its software without spending enough time in the real world first. iOS 7’s interface is certainly the most prominent example, iLife, iWork and OS X are littered with bad decisions.

Opinionated software can be great, as long as the opinions are well-considered. The myriad of UI tweaks available in iOS 7 feel like a failure of design.