The Spirit Behind Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines

Ever since my Mother was able to successfully use an iPad, I’ve been wondering about Apple’s secret. What makes these devices so intuitive to such a wide range of ages? While reading a programming textbook I found Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines, and believe the answer lies somewhere in this framework.

Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines explain the principles for a great user experience. Here is my interpretation of what these guidelines are trying to accomplish and why new developers should pay attention.

An app should be familiar

Think about what it’s like to walk into a room full of strangers, and finally spot a friend across the room. It’s likely that anxiety gives way to relaxation as soon as a familiar face is identified. A device also has the potential to be friendly, especially when the navigation is familiar, effortless and enjoyable.

Direct manipulation with accessible and realistic objects on a screen creates a positive and familiar association. In a room full of choices, most people are drawn towards what is most recognizable.

An app should be predictable

Think about how difficult it is to coordinate people’s schedules. Between schedule conflicts there is very little room for finding common ground. On the contrary, when a routine is set on a regular basis, it’s easier to get together because everyone knows the schedule.

What is the set routine of an app? I clearly remember reading a book app and being frustrated by the page turning mechanism because it wasn’t consistent. The developer probably thought they were being cute or creative. But I didn’t want to think about how to turn the page, I just wanted to turn the page and read the book. The more predictable the mechanics, the more content we can access.

An app should stay focused

Think about the amount of work it takes to remain focused while multitasking. Have you ever answered the phone while still working at a computer? The caller starts talking, but you are still staring at a screen. Soon you miss the purpose of the call and try to fake your way back into a meaningful conversation by getting up and pacing around.

In human terms that situation is called trying to focus. In Apple terms it’s called a primary task. What’s the most important function of the app? Is a certain feature mission critical, or will it distract the user from directly accessing the most important content? Apple’s suggestion is to create an App Definition Statement:

“If, after deciding on a few audience characteristics, you end up with just a few features, you’re on the right track. Great iOS apps have a laser focus on the task users want to accomplish.”

Read more in Design Strategies: from Concept to Product  Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines.

What’s truly enlightening about these guidelines is that they create an environment where someone like my Mother can gain confidence while learning to use technology. Mobile touchscreen computing based on human preferences can help us quickly move beyond the device and into problem-solving mode. Developers just need to be careful that we aren’t creating more problems than solutions along the way.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo credit Flickr [Michael J]

3 thoughts on “The Spirit Behind Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines”

  1. I had always noticed that the Apple products were so user friendly, but I didn’t really understand the “why” behind it. Thank you for sharing what you found. 🙂

  2. Thanks Dani and Lavelle. My next task will be to construct a Glossary of Terms for some object 0riented programming that non programmers can understand. We’ll see if that works! –Lorraine

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