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Monday, January 10, 2011

Twitter for Mac Highlights a New Era of UI Design

Twitter for Mac, a 2.0 version of Tweetie, has only been available for two days--after all, Mac OS X App Store only launched on Thursday--but it’s already raising some interesting questions about user interface design. The central issue is this: how far should an application (specifically a Mac application) diverge from the overall look of the operating system? Twitter ditches the normal color scheme of the close/minimize/zoom buttons, does away with the application titlebar, and uses iOS’s standard Helvetica instead of Mac OS’s standard Lucida Grande.

Ars Technica posted a solid review of Twitter for Mac, but things got really interesting when Daring Fireball’s John Gruber weighed in on the UI design issue. Is Twitter for Mac a radical offshoot or a natural UI evolution? Let’s take a look.

Gruber breaks UI arguments down into two big issues. One issue is just overall design quality, and it’s in this category that he has some real problems with Twitter’s design. While he compliments its animation, he also notes that the way the app seems to continuously stack panes one on top of another looks slick but feels bizarre in practice. The design doesn’t improve functionality; it’s just for show.

The second UI issue is more complicated. Gruber describes a divide between liberal and conservative Mac designers. Some see divergence from the traditional Mac OS look as bad, while others simply find it creative. What’s more important: uniformity of individuality?

Gruber points out that Apple, itself, has been experimenting with its OS X apps, and that uniformity is no longer the name of the game for Macs. The iOS influence will be creeping in, and more designers will be taking advantage of hardware acceleration and other advanced features to creative unique user interfaces of their own.

If you’ve used the new Twitter, tell us what you think. Is it a creative new design, or an unsettling change from the norm?

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