updated 05:55 pm EDT, Sat September 18, 2010
Nokia's Skillman: Apple and Moto UIs are complex
Nokia's new MeeGo user experience leader Peter Skillman in an interview on Friday criticized both Apple and Motorola in equal measure for interface design choices. He didn't give a full critique of the iPhone to ZURB but said iOS was inconsistent in how users navigate the interface. The former Palm Pre creator embraced Apple-like design philosophy but argued that the iPhone broke the metaphors it wanted to create by forcing users into a different control method to start a new app.
"If a user wants to walk from kitchen to dining room in her house she simply walks through," Skillman explained. "It does not work like that in Mobile -- you have to go through front door to get to the kitchen. iPhone has a home button which works like a go back to front door button. This is not a model that human beings are used to. People are spatial."
WebOS, which wasn't directly designed by Skillman but would have required his involvement, uses a card metaphor for apps and requires less hopping between screens, but it has some inconsistency of its own in requiring users take advantage of beneath-the-screen gestures to go back a level or pull up the app launcher.
Less detailed but harsher words were reserved for a criticism of Motorola that also implicated Android. There's "too much junk" on top of many existing operating systems, he said, using Motorola's Motoblur layer on Android as the main example. Phones like the Motorola Charm have home screens dominated by social networking and other custom elements; HTC also engages in some of the behavior with Sense UI, and Sony Ericsson's Mediascape and Timescape on its Xperia Android phones also impose such layers. Motorola itself has acknowledged some of the issue and has toned down the interface to become Blur on the Droid 2 and Droid X.
The new Nokia hire instead argued that design must be as simple as possible. A designer's goals are to cut out frustrations, ease very common tasks and provide immediate feedback for every action. He shared Apple's view that more was not necessarily better. "What you reject is a lot more important that what you put in," Skillman said.
He also warned that the tendency for companies to run isolated divisions was a significant problem in the industry and likened it to a university, where arts and science sections may never talk to each other. The observation may force Skillman to confront his new employer's culture. Engineers from within the company have complained that Nokia runs conflicting hardware and software divisions where the two seldom work directly in tandem and the hardware group has full control.
Skillman's impact on Nokia likely won't be felt for some time. The first phone to use MeeGo, the N9, will already have a customized interface but will have relied more on veteran developers at Intel and Nokia rather than outside talent.