Feeds

Nokia' new UI god declares war on clutter

Cleanliness starts at home

High performance access to file storage

Nokia has seen some high profile departures recently - the CEO, the phones chief, and Psion employee #1 Charles Davies, but one new arrival has begun by hitting the right note.

Peter Skillman was formerly head of UI design for Palm's webOS, the only UI to match or surpass the iPhone for functionality and ease of use. It's well loved by its users (when you can find them), and he's joined to lead UX for Meego, the Linux platform that's the future of Nokia's high-end mobile devices.

Skillman doesn't care much for the iPhone's restrictiveness, and seems to have even more contempt for companies that build information-dense "junk" on top of a default user interface. He picked out MotoBLUR as an example. Motorola piles as much information from the stream of Web2.0rhea as it can muster, and throws it in your face. Here's an example.

Motorola's MotoBLUR

But he could also have mentioned Nokia - which perhaps surpasses Motorola to boast the most cluttered and neurotic widget-infested home screen of them all. But being diplomatic at this stage is probably a good idea.

Nokia's Symbian^3 UI - very zen

Note the "widget" in the bottom left hand corner. Useful isn't it?

One advantage Skillman has with fashioning Meego into a usable user interface is the lack of baggage. When Nokia designed the S60 UI for smartphones, it did so hoping that people familiar with traditional Navikey-UI Nokia phones felt right at home. In that respect, it was a success. But Nokia neglected to develop the UI, and development requires regular pruning as well as innovation. Options remained buried several levels deep, scattered across applications, and while the N95 succeeded by hiding this complexity beneath yet another launcher key, the problem was never addressed.

Here's what Meego looks like so far - via the Meego UI style guidelines for operators.

One experienced designer who interviewed with Nokia tells us he was warned not to show off too many ideas - as "they don't like mavericks". Skillman says he was interviewed by Nokia for nine days. Perhaps he's kept the maverick qualities under wraps.

Skillman criticised the iPhone's one-button approach, too. But as well as being outdated (iOS 4 allows task-switching), the one button approach is an absolute godsend for newcomers. And the webOS-based Palm's, while allowing for much smoother task-switching, didn't really stray too far from this philosophy.

The curse of Web2.0rhea

But a bigger problem, and it's reflected in the work of several companies (and not just Nokia) is that they seem to have a crisis of confidence about who actually uses the devices and for what. For years, the designers emphasised the importance of early adopters in their focus groups, and by and large these were phone nerds with the attention span of goldfish. They were members of dozens of social networks simultaneously, who liked the gimmicks such as widgets, and generally welcomed the information overload.

(For example, they'd say the Mail for Exchange widget I highlight above is "cool". But nobody who uses Exchange mail would regard an unread count and the truncated portion of two emails as useful at all.)

Now designers are finding that this approach has been a terrible mistake. Examples range from widgetisation of home screens, reflecting an obsession with real-time information, to the clumsy co-mingling of social networks and personal address book contacts.

Witness the reaction to the recent BBC iPlayer upgrade - and the blinking incomprehension with which the designers greeted the feedback. Since they like it, everyone else must lump it. The Web 2.0 generation of UI designers simply don't have the life experience or skill set to realise it - a different skill set is probably needed. But they're too busy Tweeting, or planning the next Web 2.0 conference trip. Bless 'em. ®

Related link

Skillman podcast.

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Broadband Secretary of SHEEP sensationally quits Cabinet
Maria Miller finally resigns over expenses row
Skype pimps pro-level broadcast service
Playing Cat and Mouse with the media
Beat it, freetards! Dyn to shut down no-cost dynamic DNS next month
... but don't worry, charter members, you're still in 'for life'
Like Google, Comcast might roll its own mobile voice network
Says anything's possible if regulators approve merger with Time Warner
EE dismisses DATA-BURNING glitch with Orange Mail app
Bug quietly slurps PAYG credit - yet EE denies it exists
Turnbull leaves Australia's broadband blackspots in the dark
New Statement of Expectations to NBN Co offers get-out clauses for blackspot builds
Facebook claims 100 MEEELLION active users in India
Who needs China when you've got the next billion in your sights?
Facebook splats in-app chat, whacks brats into crack yakety-yak app
Jibber-jabbering addicts turfed out just as Zuck warned
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.