Remember Clear, the gestural to-do app “with a UI from the future“? Flat, text-centric, gestural, content-is-the-chrome interfaces get UI observers like me all hot and bothered, but here’s some truth. Good old-fashioned buttons and icons ain’t broken. They still work really, really well. And you know what’s even better? Having good old-fashioned stuff-that-ain’t-broken and new, shiny, exciting stuff in your app at the same time! That was what I couldn’t help but think after using a new to-do app called Tick.
Tick’s press release exclaimed how the app was “built from the ground-up exclusively for iOS 7”–which means it’s very flat and garnished with zippy-but-superflous animation. It also has a bunch of Clear-esque gestural controls that (as with all gestural controls nowadays) must be explicitly pointed out to the user before she can even be aware of their existence, much less their functionality. Tick’s creators took a shine to that very influential app, but they also considered that a “UI from the future” might just be kind of a pain in the ass here in the present.
“Clear is a great app, but it needs way too much muscle memory to be ‘an easy to use’ to-do app,” says Asem Hassan, Tick’s designer. His solution? Wait for it … buttons and icons! Quelle horreur! “A lot of designers seem to hate on the reminders/notes apps, but they are strikingly simple and, above all, get the job done,” he says. “UX-wise, adding a to-do [in Tick] is pretty straightforward. You tap the + button. To complete a to-do, you tap the empty circle.” Ye gods, man, what were you thinking?!
He was thinking of you, dammit. “What are the main functions a user needs to perform in a to-do app (and in our app): create a list, customize a list, add a to-do, mark a to-do, and share a list,” Hassan explains. “This meant every operation of these absolutely must have a dedicated button to perform.” No tutorial necessary. That doesn’t mean that Tick is just a ho-hum throwback to 2007: There are gestural commands to be enjoyed by power users, plus a trendy-but-classy tiled aesthetic with the aforementioned subtle animations (inspired by Letterpress, according to Hassan), even a handy “night mode” that inverts the color contrast of the app in low light so that using it doesn’t feel like popping a flashbulb in your eyes.
In other words, while Tick is handsome and clever, it isn’t from the future. It’s from someplace much more relevant: the present. This is how interaction design differs from fashion: It certainly can be exciting, fresh, “innovative,” delightful, or whatever else we design writers like, but it must be understandable to use. Now. (Especially for a to-do app. The competition these tools face isn’t from each other–it’s from plain old Post-It notes.) I can’t tell you how many apps I’ve downloaded because of their “intriguing” interfaces, only to delete them weeks later after realizing I never actually use them. What’s the more successful design: the interesting one, or the useful one? Yes, we can and should have both. But designers themselves know better than anyone which matters more in the end.