Identity Crisis?

Some real quick thoughts on UI this evening. This isn’t a very formal post but an attempt to get some thoughts out there.

So there’s talk of a new theme for Firefox on Mac OS X. According to some, it’s a clone of Safari. One must remember these are just early prototypes, not final UI by any stretch of the imagination.

I’m going to agree it’s got some similarities, but I don’t think there’s much choice if Firefox is to look like a native Mac OS X application. Originally Mac OS X preferred the “pinstripe” interface design. This is essentially what the current Mac OS X theme for Firefox is going for. I recall the pinstripe theme for Firefox even being considered a rip-off of other Mac OS X applications at the time. In more recent releases Apple has moved away from pinstripe and towards the “Brushed Metal ” interface. Apple in 10.5 is said to be moving away from Brushed Metal towards a “Unified” interface to address some perceived inconsistencies in the previous two UI schemes. There’s not to much on the web about Unified since 10.5 screenshots are forbidden under NDA, but you can catch a small glimpse via Apple’s Mac OS X pages for things like Mail and Finder. I’d consider it an incremental evolution from brushed metal, based on what I’ve seen thus far.

The application everyone seems to watch for cues to Apple UI standards seems to be iTunes/Quicktime. Which if you notice, even Safari resembles.

Consistency can be regarded as “boring”, but it does have an advantage. It’s becomes familiar quickly, and has less of a learning curve. It also makes applications seem more intuitive since UI elements are well understood. Apple wants this to encourage people to make the jump. Now more than ever (iPod effect).

That leaves the question: How do you blend in with the OS, while remaining unique? Especially one that’s looking to make things as simple as possible for the user by taking consistency to new levels. I personally think it’s all about making the easiest to use product out there, with the best features (not an easy combo). I don’t think most users are aren’t attracted to an “unique UI”. I think they are attracted to a clean, easy to use UI on an already great product. That’s not to say one shouldn’t be unique, or shouldn’t do a better job than others.

Perhaps it would be interesting to start a “user generated” brainstorm (yea, I threw in a “web 2.0 term”) similar to that of Gimp UI Redesign effort. Let users mock up what they think it should look like. If anyone wants to do so, feel free to do so (you can use free image hosting if needed) and leave a comment pointing to them. If someone wants to do so, I’ll gladly make a follow up post and put it on Planet Mozilla to get more eyes.

Edit [9/28/2007 @ 9:28PM EST]: Official wiki page for posting your mockups.