Trying to explain reduce motion to designers who don’t have a vestibular disorder

With my recent griping about Apple and reduce motion, I should note many other companies/designers fail this test. The web remains rife with such issues, as does the app and gaming ecosystem.

In part, I can understand why. Vestibular issues are weird. I never used to have one, and now I do. I’ve no idea where it came from. It also makes little logical sense to people. They think I’m lying that I get triggered by animations because I also write about videogames. But here’s the thing: I’m fine with racing games, just as I’m fine with roller-coasters. Whatever’s going on in my head manifests when 1) too much of my focus is taken over by a screen, and; 2) whatever’s happening on the screen is outside of my control.

So I can play Super Duper Racing Games VI, but an abrupt full-screen slide transition in an otherwise static puzzle game on the iPad might make me woozy for hours. This is why iOS 7’s transitions were a problem for many people – they couldn’t be ‘prepared’ for. That sounds weird, I know, and I recognise it’s tricky for designers to test against. You can have a crack at dealing with visual impairment by using your app or website with your eyes closed. Vestibular issues? Nope. So you need to fallback on testing and rules.

The first of those is pretty simple: find some people who have such issues, and ask them if your app/website causes problems, and for suggestions on how to fix it. On iOS, this might simply mean adding a preference to toggle some animations, such as parallax backgrounds. Regarding rules, ask yourself: do I really need this animation? Do I really need that full-window slide transition? In book and comic apps, can I offer an option to turn off transitions entirely? Have I checked transitions elsewhere within our apps?

The last of those is where Apple fails. The company’s accessibility people have been broadly impressive when it comes to being reactive to comments and requests I’ve made. But it seems there’s no systematic checking of triggers throughout the operating system. That might sound like I’m asking for too much, but if you have reduce motion baked in at system level, use it! It’s absurd to create something that can make millions of people’s lives better, and then pepper the OS and first-party apps with slide animations.

In a sense, I’m fortunate. After I figured out I have this issue (back in the Mac OS X Lion era, where I felt sick for days), I can usually recover from being blasted within minutes; if not, it takes a few hours. I’ve heard from people who can be knocked out for days.

So as web/app designers, ask yourself: what can I do to improve my work for people with vestibular disorders? And then think widely: what can I do to make my content accessible to everyone? That should be the goal of computing, not saying “well, just don’t use that”.

October 16, 2018. Read more in: Apple, Design, Opinions

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In macOS Mojave, Reduce transparency has broken logic and terrible design

I have motion issues, which I’ve written about on this blog before. I got sick from Mac OS X Lion and iOS 7, due to the animations Apple welded to them. Fortunately, the iOS team recognised the problems fairly quickly; the macOS team… less so, although the Mac did eventually get a Reduce motion control in the Display section of Accessibility.

Even so, I’ve long believed the Mac team doesn’t fully understand visual/balance accessibility issues, and isn’t good with details, and that opinion is rather upheld with Reduce transparency.

The standard macOS interface has quite a few semi-transparent elements, which like frosted glass provide a glimpse of what’s beneath them. At Apple events, execs go giddy about how pretty this is. In use, these elements vary from being distracting to outright dangerous. For example, if you have a motion-sickness issue and an animating web page is sitting behind a semi-transparent element, it can take a while before you realise it’s affecting you, by which time it’s too late and you’re already dizzy.

“Fine”, says Apple, grumpily, “so just turn on Reduce transparency”. Only it’s not that simple. Because when you do, Apple designers get in a strop and hurl logic out of the window. What you’d expect to happen is for macOS to remove the semi-transparent bits. So instead of Finder sidebars or the macOS app switcher showing what’s beneath them, they’d just have a neutral solid background. Nope. Instead, in its infinite wisdom, Apple’s decided those components should instead be coloured by your Desktop background.

This makes no logical sense. Why should the colour of an interface component be influenced by elements that may be several layers beneath them? Also, this decision can make interface elements less accessible, because you end up with an inconsistent interface (colours shifting as you move a window around the screen) and can impact on legibility (such as when moving a Finder window to the right on the default background, whereupon the sidebar goes a weird brown colour).

In tech circles, there’s the phrase ‘dogfooding’. This refers to ‘eating your own dog food’ – in other words, testing your own products in real-world usage. It feels like although Apple is happy to add accessibility controls to macOS, and regularly enthuses about such things relating to people who are blind, its internal teams need to down a whole lot more dog food regarding visual/balance elements. Apple prides itself on sweating the details when it comes to hardware; it needs to do the same with its system software too.


Update: 512 Pixels has created a gallery to illustrate the problem.

October 15, 2018. Read more in: Apple, Design, Opinions, Technology

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Reduce Motion coming to ‘OS X’, in macOS Sierra

I’ve been regularly writing about motion sickness and vestibular issues in computing for years now, on this blog and elsewhere. The problem is poorly understood and broadly ignored by designers and engineers alike, who thrill at the prospect of infusing interfaces with dynamic movement, without pausing to consider how this affects a sizeable proportion of the population.

Apple’s response has been better than most, but still half-hearted at times. iOS is an exception. Although niggles remain, Apple’s iOS team has clearly worked very hard to ensure the iPhone and iPad interfaces are truly usable for all. But on tvOS, Reduce Motion does relatively little, and on the Mac, the system does not exist at all. This is something I find maddening, given how prominent animation is within OS X, how long Apple’s had to fix the problem, and the fact underlying settings have existed for years — but clearly in a half-finished state that users could not easily access.

Last October, I posted the following on Twitter:


Hey, Apple: this —
☑️ Reduce Motion
— would fit almost perfectly in the area I’ve outlined in red.

System Preferences pane with area marked out where Reduce Motion setting could go


It turns out all I got wrong was the placement. At WWDC 2016’s keynote yesterday, while no mention was made of Reduce Motion in macOS Sierra, I’m informed it’s coming. In fact, I was sent the following image:

Reduce Motion checkbox in macOS Sierra

I’m told when this box is checked, major system animations switch to crossfades, much like on iOS. This includes entry/exit animations for Mission Control, Launchpad and full-screen apps, along with swiping between spaces. I’ve no idea whether other integrated and problematic animations are also affected (such as full-page swipes in Safari and Preview), but there’s a checkbox there. It’s a start. It’s something to build on. It’s something to report feedback on regarding improvements rather than it’s very existence. And I’m delighted.

As much as it might irritate John Gruber, I really think this one merits a finally.

June 14, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Design, Technology

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What’s more important in UI: what you tap or what you see?

Daring Fireball recently linked to Maps Plus. The app uses Google Maps data but filters it through an Apple-style interface. John Gruber says:

It’s close to what you’d get if Google Maps were still providing the data for Apple Maps.

And this is true. It even has Street View. It doesn’t, though, have turn-by-turn, and there is, to me, a worse problem: the roads are the wrong colour. This is because when Google shifted its system to a faster vector-based approach, it dispensed with varying road colours individual nations used, preferring US ones worldwide. Instead of blue motorways, green A roads and yellow B roads, UK motorways became orange, A roads were coloured yellow, and B roads were white, not differentiated from smaller roads. Motorways and A roads since received correctly coloured markers, but that only helps when one is in the viewing area. Otherwise, at a glance, the M3 diagonally crossing the screen looks at a glance like an A road.

Apple Maps got this right in iOS 7b4. This means in the UK, you can more easily spot the roads you need, just by what colour they are. By contrast, Maps Plus loses this, through working with Google’s mapping system. So you end up with a user interface that’s more suited to iOS, but content where its ‘user interface’ is far worse. Complicating matters further, Google remains far superior to Apple when it comes to points of interest and with Street View versus the oddball Flyover. So either Apple needs to get way better with POI or Google needs to get over itself and start recognising everywhere isn’t the USA. Usually, I’d suggest there’d be no chance of Apple winning such a race, but Google doesn’t seem to want to budge on this one.

 

 

June 6, 2016. Read more in: Apps, Design

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How big an issue is the nausea problem for Virtual Reality products?

On Quora, helmet mounted displays expert Steve Baker talks about the issue of nausea in VR. It’s an excellent post that should cause lots of people within the industry to sit up and take notice. The short of it is VR confuses the brain, contradicting what we feel and see, to the point some people’s automatic response is that they’re hallucinating, and therefore must eject whatever they just ate that poisoned them. In other words, VR makes them sick.

I’m not optimistic much will change. Vestibular conditions through to basic nausea are not very well understood in the tech industry. Engineers and designers are broadly ignorant of any such issues, and companies don’t appear that concerned about taking steps to rectify them. That might sound like hyperbole, but the evidence is everywhere you see an interface that moves. Our Samsung TV’s ‘smart’ screens spin around; my iMac’s full-screen mode slides before my eyes; and countless web pages hurl content about with merry abandon.

Apple seems to have precisely zero interest in addressing motion issues, and yet it is strong on accessibility elsewhere: vision, hearing, motor. And if even Apple doesn’t care enough (bar when there’s bad press, which made the company take notice in iOS 7), how likely is it anyone else will deal with such problems?

At least with VR, you know you’re placing yourself in a situation where you might get sick. You put on a headset. You can prepare yourself. What concerns me more is that extreme motion is becoming ubiquitous, pervading all interfaces, and hardly anyone seems bothered about addressing this. It’s one thing when you can escape, but another when the problem is all around you.

May 23, 2016. Read more in: Design, Technology

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