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UX Lessons from Big Sur

jrdnbwmn profile image Jordan Bowman ・3 min read

The largest tech company in the world just launched new software.

There are problems with Apple's Big Sur, but let's look at a few UX decisions they (mostly) got right.

User-first

Emphasis on the UI was reduced in order to keep the focus on the user’s content. Buttons and controls appear when needed and recede when they’re not. Border and bezels have been softened or removed.

The interface is there to serve the user—it shouldn’t draw attention to itself. Remove visual complexity & increase the signal to noise ratio.

User-first

Privacy & transparency

Tracking prevention and transparency has been added to Safari. Inspired by food nutrition labels, new privacy information on the App Store lets you see a summary of the privacy practices of each app before you download it.

Put privacy and transparency first. It’s in the best interest of your user.

Privacy and transparency

Drill down on key workflows

Apple clearly had a goal to improve the Messages app. There are now pinned conversations, better search, inline replies, mentions, and the ability to find GIFs. They know Messages are an important part of their platform.

Invest time and effort in improving key tasks & flows in your product. It’ll pay off in the end.

Key workflows

Uniformity across services

The Control Center and Notification Center changes are meant to create consistency through the ecosystem. There’s also new unified line of symbols. Some of the visual changes, though, like the new app icons, don’t match up with iOS 14; hopefully they’ll fix that.

Maintain consistency and adhere to your own standards. It reduces cognitive load, makes the UI learnable, and gives a feeling of familiarity and confidence.

Uniformity across services

System status visibility

Multiple updates and standardizations were made to top-level UI’s, including the Control Center, widgets, Spotlight, and the Notification Center. These changes make system status clear, easy to find, and customizable.

Quick access to general system controls and information makes an interface feel reliable and predictable, and builds trust.

System status visibility

Stick with what's familiar

When redesigning dock icons, Apple consciously tried to retain the personality from the original. There are lots of new UI sounds as well, which were literally built on top of snippets of the originals so that they sounded familiar.

When doing a redesign, remember Familiarity Bias: people prefer familiar experiences. It’s best to build off what you have rather than make an entirely new experience.

Stick with what's familiar

Clear visual feedback

The Dock and Menu Bar have a new interface that allows you to customize where controls show up. The method they use of visually showing the user exactly what will happen is not only satisfying, it’s a very effective form of communication.

Clearly communicate the consequences of decisions, preferably visually.

Clear visual feedback

Thanks!

What do you think of Big Sur so far? What could they have done better?

If you’re feeling generous, perhaps share the thread on Twitter:

Originally posted on learnuxd.io.

Images from apple.com and my computer.

Discussion

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stereobooster profile image
stereobooster

Put privacy and transparency first. It’s in the best interest of your user.

Sounds like a joke after discovering that they transfer information about each application you open to their server via plaintext and without your consent and without a way to opt-out and by pass OS level firewalls (though firewall in router would work obviously)

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toddmorey profile image
Todd Morey

I feel a more nuanced understanding of what's actually going on is helpful:
appleinsider.com/articles/20/11/15...

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stereobooster profile image
stereobooster

To have more full picture also read original reporter article sneak.berlin/20201112/your-compute...

This is, sadly, about as close as you can possibly get to a “we fucked up” from Apple PR: they’re deleting their IP logs, encrypting their shit, and letting you turn it off. This is great, but they have remained totally silent on the fact that their OS apps will still bypass your firewall and leak your IP and location past your VPN on Big Sur

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greenroommate profile image
Haris Secic

Loooooooool. I need to Google this. Thanks for the hint

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citizen428 profile image
Michael Kohl

I'm a bit torn on the UX changes. Especially some of the icons seem a step back and I feel they went overboard on the more rounded corners.

They know Messages are an important part of their platform.

This is so interesting to me, as I haven't observed this outside the US. Everywhere else there always seems to be a dominant messaging app (WhatsApp, Telegram, FB Messenger, Line).

Uniformity across services

We don't have uniformity in inputs though and it doesn't seem like Macs will get touch interfaces anytime soon.

Overall not a bad update, but I think my time with Apple is slowly coming to an end after almost 15 years.

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tiguchi profile image
Thomas Iguchi

I welcome UI and UX changes, and this one is alright. I'm not a big fan of the bigger spacing between the menu bar icons, and also not a fan of those constant black & white color change glitches when the background image changes.

My menu bar looks like this most of the time:

Menu bar icon glitch

Other problems I noticed after the upgrade:

  • Built-in screen shot features don't work anymore. I can draw a rectangle on the screen, but when I release the touch pad nothing happens. Images don't get saved.
  • Switching between virtual screens is laggy and stuttering. That used to be buttery smooth at all times
  • Typing has a noticeable delay in some apps that gets worse over time. Specifically browser windows and IntelliJ IDEA. This one is the biggest issue for me at the moment 😩

So overall it's aesthetically pleasing to me. But Apple really missed the mark when it comes to performance and ironing out those visual glitches

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tiguchi profile image
Thomas Iguchi

A couple amendments:

  • Spotlight also does not work anymore after a fresh restart. Got to close and open the lid again to make it work
  • Same problem with search within the preferences app. It doesn't work at first.

I found a workaround for the typing and performance lag though:

Uncheck automatic graphics switch

I unchecked automatic graphics switching so my Mac keeps using the Radeon GPU. Everything feels much snappier now.

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iamharnad profile image
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molly_space profile image
Molly

Buttons and controls appear when needed and recede when they’re not. Border and bezels have been softened or removed.