Dark mode: better on the iPhone than the Mac?

In the most recent release of iOS, Apple added dark mode, and I’m a fan. At nighttime, dark backgrounds seem less glaring; they’re also less likely to disturb my partner sleeping beside me on the bed.

But I’ve actually taken to “running dark” all the time—day and night—on my iPhone. I spend most of my time indoors, where dark mode is perfectly legible and less distracting than its older, brighter cousin.

I’m not quite as enamored with dark themes on the desktop, though. I think it’s the overlapping windows that give me trouble. In dark mode, I can’t tell apps apart at a glance; they seem less differentiated.

Why is this? For one thing, it’s difficult to paint a shadow (like the one macOS uses to mark the active window) on a background that’s already dark. It doesn’t help that I spend most of my workday in Microsoft Office. Those apps support dark mode, but when it’s turned on, the interfaces are near-identical, dropping their distinctive “light mode” colors for a uniform gray.

Dark mode works on iOS because you don’t really need to tell apps apart by their interface appearance. On the iPhone, you only have one thing open at a time; you’re probably not going to forget what app you’re currently using. Even in the app switcher, the system helpfully pins each app’s icon to its thumbnail, so there’s no mistaking one for another. ◾


Apple Watch, “Round Edition”?

I took a bit of time this morning to play with the concept of a round Apple Watch. Some notes:

  • Converting watchOS to work with a round display would be a massive design effort. Everything would need to be rebuilt from the ground up, since most of the platform’s UI elements are rectangular. My proposal solves… almost none of these challenges. It’s literally the easiest screen to mock up.
  • I’ve moved the side button to the other side of the display, mainly for symmetry’s sake. This creates some problems, though, since I use the buttonless side of the Watch to brace against when I’m pressing the button or the crown. On the other hand, this change would make the “hold both buttons” gesture far easier.
  • The bezels here are the same size as on the current watch. A bezel-less round design would look sick, though—better than on the rectangular watch, since you wouldn’t have to deal with fitting square elements into the case’s rounded corners. ■

Image credits


technology Uncategorized

What can we learn from a logo?

I’m struck by the ways that a good logo can signal a company’s marketing priorities and customer culture.

Take the Microsoft logo, for example. It’s symmetrical and consistent. And that consistency is a key part of Microsoft’s brand; enterprise customers need predictable upgrade cycles, legacy interoperability, and clear vectors for support. Another visual element worth noting? The logo’s lines intersect at a single middle point, and Microsoft hopes to sit at the center of your business, delivering the software that ties together disparate systems.

Meanwhile, Apple’s logo, with its trademark missing bite, is very intentionally unsymmetrical. The imbalance implies some quirkiness—which appeals to the creative, “crazy ones” who make up its key market demographic. The logo also relies on an organic, natural symbol, rather than an abstract, precise polygon. This familiar shape distances Apple from the computer’s mathematical underpinnings and eases its brand toward the humanities. Note how often Apple’s executives discuss the intersection of technology and the liberal arts.

Of course, we could also analyze these logos less charitably. Microsoft’s logo is simple and unrelentingly… well, square. That slang term fits the company’s “tragically unhip” reputation. Steve Jobs once complained that Microsoft’s chief failure was its lack of taste. He compared it to McDonald’s—a restaurant that delivers a consistent experience but inspires no one. (Appropriately, McDonald’s golden arches are also symmetrical.)

Apple’s logo could be interpreted cynically, too. This symbol is concrete and unmistakable, and the apple’s “leaf” and “bite” both point in one stubborn direction. The implied message? Take it or leave it, it’s Apple’s ecosystem and they grip the reins tightly. If you want to ride along, Apple gets to drive. So, unlike Microsoft, Apple eschews cross-platform interoperability whenever it can. It limits users’ ability to customize its precisely-designed interfaces. App Store developers must play by Apple’s rules. iOS users can not set third-party app defaults for things like maps or email. Facetime never became that “open standard” that Steve Jobs promised.

Silly semiotics? Maybe so. A fun exercise? For sure.


technology Uncategorized

A taller iPhone: ergonomically problematic?

In recent weeks, rumors of an iPhone with a larger screen have resurfaced. A forum post on the Verge, subtly substantiated by Apple insider John Gruber, imagined how Apple could increase the device’s screen size without expanding its actual footprint. By sliding the earpiece up and shrinking down the home button, Apple could pack in more vertical pixels, transforming the iPhone’s screen from a squat 3:2 to something nearer 16:9.

Now, I’m all for a larger iPhone screen. The current version does feel small. But this particular idea has its problems.

My own misgivings have to do with button ergonomics. The current iPhone’s home button is already tricky to press, particularly when the device is held with one hand. If I grip the phone securely, my thumb can’t reach the home button. I’m forced to shimmy the iPhone “up” my grip, balancing it on my index finger. While my thumb stretches, I lose its stabilizing anchor point. The combined effect? It feels as if the phone wants to flip over my fingers and tumble to the ground.

And what if, as the rumors suggest, the home button gets smaller and slides further down to accommodate a taller screen size? Well, in short, a things get worse:

  • First, as the home button moves down, hitting it comfortably will mean holding the iPhone even higher in my hand. More weight will hang out into the air, making the device less stable.
  • Second, a smaller home button would be a harder target to hit. My thumb would take longer to find the button. This would leave the phone unanchored (and vulnerable to drops) for longer stretches of time.
  • Third, shifting the home button downward would mean that my thumb presses down slightly closer to the device’s bottom edge. As with a lever or see-saw, moving the contact point away from the fulcrum results in more movement. It’s tough to maintain a firm grip on a moving object.[1]
  • Finally, with the home button relocated near the phone’s bottom, there’s a greater chance that my thumb will unexpectedly slip off the edge. Suddenly, I’ve lost that anchor point completely. My reflexes might not fire quickly enough to tighten my grip—and prevent the phone from flipping backwards, out of my hand.

  1. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the home button is notorious for wearing out. As the phone ages, only overly-firm, exaggerated presses register with the OS. These heavier taps make the phone shift and shimmy even more.  ↩

Life Uncategorized

Package design 101

I love cereal. Breakfast cereal nears culinary perfection–appropriate for any meal, snack, or dessert. But certain situations do require certain cereals. Sometimes you need Froot Loops’ frivolity, austere moods demand bran flakes, and so on. The secret to eternal happiness may well lie in one’s ability to discern the right Cheerio for any given moment.

Imagine my frustration, then, with this pantry travesty:


Hannaford, my local supermarket, uses one fixed template for their entire off-brand cereal line. And, whether by design or diabolical plan, my favorite varieties share this purply-blue hue. Every time I go to pour a bowl, I have to re-read the box labels–or risk substituting granola for raisin bran.

If your customers only recognize your packaging after a close inspection, something’s gone wrong. Make your product lines iconic, differentiated, unmistakable. Make them like this:

Ever grabbed Sprite when you meant to grab Coke? Yeah, me neither.

Ever grabbed Sprite when you meant to grab Coke? Yeah, me neither. Courtesy teachernz.