Bright, Too Patient Design

It's not too often that I realize I'm using something that features a bright, patient design.

It's almost like using a product or piece of software that was tailored for you, except they predicted the future and released it without ever asking you anything about it. With just with the right pace, you discover the idioms and useful features -- it feels like the software or product is slowly and patiently revealing itself to you, as you learn it.

For a while now, I've been using a Windows Phone 7 and slowly discovering the bright design that it's made of, to the point that I realized it's sometimes too patient. Some examples:

  • in the phone app, you can tap the small phone icon to make a call directly from the main view, no need to switch to the contact view;
  • the search button on the phone usually leads to Bing search, but is sometimes contextual within the active app;
  • when copying and pasting some text, the small clipboard icon disappears from view, but it can still be accessed by dragging the area above the keyboard to the right, so that the "paste" operation can be repeated.

Windows Phone 7 showing clipboard icon partially visibleThe most recent "Mango" update for Windows Phone 7 brings the levels of patience back down to normal levels, for example the search button now does the same thing all the time (fires up Bing search; apps that support search now have to expose it in their own way) and the clipboard indicator becomes only half hidden after the first "paste" operation.

In my opinion, this is a very good step forward for two reasons:
  • better exposure of the features to all the users, not just the ones that read 4-page reviews of the software that contain all these gems;
  • more gratification for advanced users, both in terms of their own daily use of the phone (less friction and variability to access useful functionality) and, as enthusiasts that they are, when showing off explaining the features of the phone to others (no longer having to "teach" them how to use it).

I think that by no means is it an easy feat to create a product that can boast a bright, patient design, but making it too patient can make the product seem incomplete and unsophisticated.
In the case of the phone icon in the phone application of WP7, for example, a periodic, fast color+fade animation would hint the user that those are buttons, not just static icons. Likewise, the clipboard icon could continue its happy secluded life outside the screen, but just making it jump a bit into the screen a few seconds after it went away would remind the users that it's still in town.

It's great to strive for a bright, patient design. Just don't be too patient.

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