There’s an interesting video online from Chris Pirillo, with his father battling Windows 8. The problem is that he can’t get back to the initial screen, because Microsoft scrapped the UI conventions he understands and has instead hidden the equivalents as corner-based hot-spots. On Daring Fireball, John Gruber comment:
Could be this has no predictive value regarding how regular people will think about Windows 8, but it’s an eye-opener regarding the risk Microsoft is taking by making essential UI navigation elements hidden until you hover the mouse in the right spots. People navigate with their eyes, not by scrubbing the screen with the mouse.
I don’t think Microsoft’s alone here, but the video highlights a possibly worrying trend in UI design. My father recently used an iPad for the first time, and he had no problem with some aspects of the interface, such as launching apps, zooming and so on. But he at one point came across some text that was cut off. “How do I get to the rest of it?”, he asked me. I responded that you just swipe it.
iOS is full of this kind of thing, and its conventions are increasingly coming to the Mac. Scroll bars are hidden, so you’ve no indication (beyond some apps ‘flashing’ the bars as you access new content) whether content is hidden or not. When text ends with a full sentence rather than cutting off half-way through some letters, it’s not obvious you need to scroll, even if you know the required gesture. And then there are the countless apps that now ‘hide’ controls, requiring you to learn new conventions, but for individual apps rather than the system as a whole. Coherence is being eroded as devices become the tools; it’s almost like a regression, with you having to learn new things every time you buy an app.
I’m not saying these things are necessarily bad. In most cases, modern computing is far more user-friendly than it used to be, and gestures are typically pretty memorable. Additionally, we’re in some cases moving towards more controls in context, which can be helpful. Also, one might argue that many ‘hidden’ aspects of UI are easily learned, and so people really only need to be shown once and they’ll subsequently be fine. But we are definitely seeing a massive shift in how software interfaces work, and I think it’s disingenuous to suggest this is a Microsoft issue or risk—it’s really far more widespread within the industry.
Update: Lukas Mathis explores the new iPhoto for iOS app, in iPhoto’s Mystery Meat Gestures, showcasing problems behind hidden UI.