How pretty do UIs need to be?

by phil on Monday Oct 6, 2008 9:03 PM

A friend of mine who builds websites and is working on Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) projects for clients told me he abhorred the iPhone UI. I was surprised to hear that from a UI designer, especially given the near universal acclaim for the Apple and iPhone experiences. But then he showed me what he considered to be an improvement on mobile interfaces. He showed me a mock-up of his idea of a good iPhone app, and I admit, I was impressed. While I can't show you those, it was along the lines of this:

Click here to view a larger version.

Although he never said it, his unspoken goal is to make UIs more "Vista-like." This runs counter to the old mantra, "do it like Apple." But the thing is, Vista is prettier than Mac OS X.

But does it even matter? I'm happy with the way Windows XP and Mac OS X look. Don't get me wrong, I believe there's plenty of room for improvement. For example, more than half of the clicking I do is still unnecessary. And User Experience philosophy is just now coming in vogue. But prettier isn't really better or interesting.

What prompted me to write is this Vista-like interpretation of Facebook (from the same site):

Click here to view a larger version.

I admit, it does look pretty and well-done. But I wonder if this is a dead-end for the growth of the user interface world. These glossy, shiny, glass-like, Vista-like, Minority-Report-ish interfaces seem more appropriate in the lobbies of places like Google or Sony Metreon. Not for everyday use. Myspace has already proved that an ugly design that accomplishes what the user intends is OK.

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