Except for all the really bad parts, It’s really not that bad – Vista reconsidered

I just had this memory. Windows Vista reminds me. It reminds me of sharing a flat with an attention-starved actor as I once did in college – constantly running in to the room ‘loook at mee!’ he’d literally shout at you as you were trying to do anything else ‘No, Everybody! paaaay attention to meeeee’

There’s a design principle at work here, at it hit me smack in the face watching this YouTube clip (thanks Kottke) 1 min 52 seconds with Wim Crouwel, a classic Modernist designer speaking on Helvetica:

“… I chose Helvetica because it was the most neutral of the typefaces.
Helvetica was a real step from the 19th century typefaces, we were impressed by it because it was more neutral. And neutralism was a word that we loved. ‘It should be neutral’ It shouldn’t have a meaning in itself, the meaning is in the content of the text and not in the typeface. And that’s why we loved Helvetica very much”

The design of any functional application is absolutely at it’s best when the app speaks for itself, not about itself.

Neutralism is I think such an important idea many of us need to rediscover in software design. Think Facebook over Myspace. Think everything google does. Think Windows classic view over XP’s garish green and blue, or yech, default Vista.

Why paint up your OS on queasy side of tartyness like the gloss lipstick on a pre-teen pageant queen contestant? Let the content and the applications be the star of the show, this is what we actually want to use our computers for. I didn’t come here just to be gleamed at.

Memo to Vista: let me be impressed by how you empower me not by how many times you can gleam at me. For god’s sake if I have to see another app designed with candy colored buttons that gleam at me… (And I’m looking at you too Mr OSX, you’re no saint yourself you smug bastard)

So the Vista upgrade was making me pretty unhappy at first, but -and this is what I’m trying to get to- gradually I’m making my peace with it. I won’t go back. If you can get past the worst of the antiuser infections, there are a ton of little improvements here and there (and a few giant whopping things, like MS casually tossed in a whole speech recognition service like it was just spare pair of extra socks).

The good news is you can mostly “fix” Vista by turning off some of more of the abrasive UI bits (and the remaining you sort of get acclimatized to).

The bad news is it’s not as easy as just flipping on classic mode in XP. The Vista UI really doesn’t degrade very well to classic mode (navigating folders is especially bad) and you also lose a lot of otherwise good stuff that is in Aero. So you have to hunt and dig around in options (turn Aero to white is a good start), turn off translucency for sure – that’s just a mess.

For Firefox users I highly recommend this extension that restores the “sickly” Vista Firefox look to the wonderful -and very neutralist- theme designed originally by those clever fingers at Radiant Core.

Now I need to go see Helvetica, the movie.