Usability-Hyperlinks-Buttons-Apple

In the early days of the web, one thing you could count on seeing on a regular basis were calls to action via the phrase “click here to.” For example, “click here to sign up,” or “click here to download,” and so on. The basic logic behind this approach was that the web originally started out as a very text heavy medium with graphics being a secondary element. In this ecosystem of sparse visual cues to indicate what was clickable and what wasn’t, web designers relied on direct instructions to indicate calls to action.

I know what you’re thinking – “But wait, hyperlinks are blue and underlined. That’s a visual cue to indicate something is clickable isn’t it?” Yes, you’re right. The problem, however, is that at the time everyone wanted to be different and color the links to match their brand or color scheme, or just make it black to be gothy. Ok, I made the gothy part up but you get the point. The problem with these hyperlinks was that you had links that looked just like regular content. In order to fix this, a “Click here to…” was put in front of it. The good news here is that over the years we collectively learned to cut to the chase and make links more obvious, drop the ‘Click here to…’, and most importantly make use of buttons whenever the user was invited to take an action. We realized that desktop apps used buttons quite effectively, and they had been doing so for years in fact, so why not adopt them?

Ok, enough about Internet history already. Why am I bringing this up? Because the morning after I downloaded Apple’s new iOS 7 for my iPhone I was greeted at 7am by my alarm inviting me to ‘Click here to snooze’, (ok, to be fair it said ‘Tap’ instead of ‘Click’ but it’s the exact same thing). I thought to myself, how could this be? We grew out of this a decade ago people. This just doesn’t make any sense. Upon doing some research on iOS 7, it all became clear. The UI designers at Apple decided to strip away anything in the interface deemed to be extraneous. No more shadows, no more texture, no more dimension, and so on. But they went too far. Apple reasoned that if they used color and positioning to indicate whether something was clickable or not, then a button would not be necessary, just text. This is all well and great but it creates a big problem – now content (text) and actions (clickable text) look very similar to each other. Don’t even get started on what that means for the color-blind portion of the population.

So, how do we know this isn’t just an issue of opinion or some sort of anti-Apple tirade? How do we really know this is a core problem with the visual language of iOS7? For starters, Apple breaks its own rule. Yes, in some of its own apps – App Store for instance – you will find buttons. It appears as though when a large amount of different types of content are present on a screen the designers decided to use buttons. This is no doubt due to the fact that since there are so many elements on the screen a button HAS to be used to differentiate itself from everything else competing for the user’s eye.

It is important to remember that just because Apple does something, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best decision for usability, especially when the decision is a resurrection of a bad idea in the first place. It’s also important that Apple, or any other company for that matter, is called out on it. This type of peer review within the industry is what ultimately forces improvements which is a direct benefit to the user. If we weren’t critical of our fellow designers we’d still all be using the Hockey Puck mouse. Not sure what the Hockey Puck mouse is you say? ‘Click here‘ to find out.