“Almost There Design”..

If the term “Almost There design” hasn’t been coined yet, I’d like to be the guy who coined it.

I’ve been using it now for the past year — maybe longer. I don’t remember, but I like using it. “What is it?” you may ask. Well, it’s pretty simple and a term I use whenever I see an attempt at a product or app or experience or anything that is such a good idea, but not really executed to it’s full potential, or what it should have been, or could be, as in it’s “Almost There” but misses the mark of what it was aiming for.

I see a LOT of things that are “Almost There” – Google Now, Android, the current state of iOS, Google Glass – actually I have a very long list of things that could take a while, and maybe I’ll do a blog post about it. The sad thing is I see a lot of things that are almost there, from a lot of big companies who are known for creating new wonderful experiences. But for some reason a lot of their latest stuff is SO close yet not close enough to changing the way we do things or completely shift paradigms.

A good analogy that came to me this morning happened when I got an email from a buddy asking me about my thoughts on skeumorphism (making artificial things like interfaces look like real world things).

Disclaimer: I like a little bit of skeumorphism. It’s like salt on food. Just a little brings out the flavor but too much ruins it.

Unless you’re a horse and really like lots of salt.

Also, I don’t consider myself an interface master or expert by any means. I know what I like, what feels right, what just makes my gut go “yeah, that’s it!” or “bleh – this is really not good and it’s kinda creeping me out”.

I am and will always be a student. I’m always learning, either from others, or the world around me, or just from silly discoveries that happen most of the time by mistake – accidental inventions more or less (I know about these as I had 6 in the last 4 months that are waiting to be patented – and that surprised me).

So here’s what my friend asked:

I enjoy reading you comments on LinkedIn. I understand Apple may abandon skeuomorphisms from the user interface of IOS 7. Being an interface master, I am interested in your thoughts about skeuomorphic design elements. 
Mike

And here was my answer:

As far as the whole new iOS, I will say I’m excited to see what Jonny Ive comes up with, however there’s certain things I still like in skeumorphism, like metal buttons, or buttons that glow when on like there’s a little tiny light in them. And I do like apps that feel like the real thing – there’s a number of sound apps that mimic real synthesizers, or amps, or 8mm movie cameras. I like those because they are nostalgic feeling and bring back fond memories when I use them, as well as a bit of whimsy. 

I don’t think we can totally get away from skeumorphism — felt table tops are bad, but there is a way to use it and not be over the top or basically in the wrong place. Going completely opposite can be dangerous – tiles was one of the worst takes on going flat and people’s response to that design direction has not been good. 

What’s funny is when you think about it, is Ive’s inspiration of Braun and if they go somewhat in that direction of mimimal and more flat is that there is still skeumorphism since it’s mimicking that look..

 I know they can pull something off that’s a game-changer. They always do. What Apple is really good at is watching what other people do and how close they get – but never really get it right. That’s what I call an “almost there” (hey, there’s a reference to the Death Star trench run…). It makes an impact but it doesn’t blow up people’s perception of how something can be or should be done.

 Wow, and I just made that up as I was typing this – not the “almost there” part — I’ve been saying that for about a year now, but the analogy just popped into my head as I heard the red squadron leader in his X-wing saying “Almost there…”. 

If you’re a fan of Star Wars, Red leader made a run, was looking into his targeting computer and relying on something other than his gut. As he kept saying “Almost there”, he came SO close to blowing up the Death Star. But he didn’t. He made an impact that shook things up a bit, but he didn’t change anything. I kind of liken him to the people who rely on numbers, research, people who are trained to do things a certain way because that’s the way everyone else does it.

Red Five – Luke Skywalker, the one who didn’t go to the academy, was the outsider, hadn’t been part of the Rebel forces before – trusted his gut instinct (“Use the Force Luke”), and hit his target, blew up the Death Star, and changed things and people’s perceptions.

Apple is Red Five and literally blew up people’s perception of what a mobile phone should be with the iPhone. It was a game changer. I do believe a company can’t come out with something every single year that’s a game-changer. I don’t think it’s even so much a good idea, because people come to expect it, and lose focus on how a product changed their lives, and just want what’s next, and then what’s after that, and so on. Kind of like the kid at Christmas who blasts through their presents without being happy with the one really cool thing they’re parents spent a lot of time on finding.

I think iOS 7 is going to be a game changer. It’s not going to be an “Almost There”. It’s going to be “We’re there”. And I think Apple has something else up there sleeve (literally) that’s going to blow people’s perception of what whatever it’s going to be should be.

A wise and brilliant man recently said “Innovate or Die (dying is easier).”  That’s true. But give us some time to innovate. I mean really, truly, innovate.

You won’t be disappointed.

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