Although it’s often hailed as being on the vanguard of design, Apple has been responsible for more than one design crime in its day. But let me tell you something: With the user-interface designed for OS 9’s DVD player, Apple reached its design nadir back in 1999. Tim Cook could exhume Massimo Vignelli’s corpse just to toss in Dieter Rams alive, and it still wouldn’t be a worse design crime.
Don’t believe me? This is what it looked like.
I know what you’re thinking: W, T, then a trail of literally a thousand Fs, one for every single one of the fucks that Apple decided not to give when they designed the above UI monstrosity. It looks like something between a WinAmp skin circa 1997 and a bottle of silver nail polish barfed up by a junior UI designer. It was so badly designed, people couldn’t even figure out how to get the player off the screen once the DVD started. Steve Jobs couldn’t have possibly had anything to do with this, right? Right?
Wrong! This quick silver monstrosity shipped directly under Steve Jobs’s watch. First released in 1999, it was not only the default DVD player app for OS 9. It debuted simultaneously with Quicktime 4.0, and between the two of them, helped usher in the much loathed Brushed Metal look to the Mac operating system. Apple even wrote up Human Interface Guidelines for the appropriate use of Brushed Metal, which they said should only be used “for programs that mimic the operation of, or interface with, common devices.” In other words, skeuomorphic apps.
Of course, fast forward to 2003, and Apple was ignoring its own Human Interface Guidelines. Brushed Metal took over OS X 10.3, codenamed Jaguar, creeping over literally every aspect of the operating system like some sort of insidious biomechanical lichen. Despite the fact that Apple said it should only be used in skeuomorphic apps, Brushed Metal could soon be found everywhere, from the Finder windows to iTunes.
This is the worst thing about the OS 9 DVD Player. It isn’t some one-off design crime that snuck past Steve Jobs in the earliest years of his return to Apple. In all its Brushed Metal horror, the OS 9 DVD Player is an app that we know Steve Jobs saw. That means he either saw it and did nothing, or even worse, thought it looked so unbelievably awesome that he decided to redesign the entire Mac operating system to match!
Then again, what do you expect? Steve Jobs gets a lot of praise for bringing design to the masses, but this is the same guy who once looked at the Corinthian Leather seats on his private jet and thought it would make a radical background texture for iCal.