Wednesday, January 7th, 2009
I read Peter Hosey’s post on this subject and then got into an argument on Twitter. Usually this is a sign I should write a blog post.
Here are my assumptions:
- The more affluent someone is, the more likely it is they have used a computer.
- The average iPhone user has used a computer before. Being able to spend a couple hundred dollars on a phone and in the neighborhood of $70 a month for a contract implies a certain level of affluence. Additionally one of the most attractive features of the iPhone is that it can also act as an iPod, which generally requires having a computer to sync to.
- On most computer operating systems, application settings appear in that application. Peter touches on this. Windows, Mac OS X and GNOME & KDE all behave this way.
From this we can conclude:
- iPhone users do not arrive tabula rasa. They have experience with some computer system. The already have expectations about how computers and computer-like things, such as the iPhone, should work.
- Settings do not go in the settings app. Given that taking advantage of already learned behaviors is a key part of usability, doing something completely, 100% contrary to everything they’ve experienced up to this point will, and does, confuse users.
One of the main points of contention, and indeed what Peter’s post is about, is what icon to use for settings.
Since iPhone users have a wide, heterogeneous computer usage background, we cannot assume they are familiar with any particular icon from that experience. There are also many different ways to represent preferences or settings in an icon.
The right thing to do here is to use an icon we are reasonably sure they already know. Since all iPhone users use iPhones, we should use an icon similar to one the iPhone already uses to represent settings. That would be a gear.
As for what specific type of gear it should be, I don’t think it matters terribly much. I’m not sure I buy Peter’s argument that one similar to the Mac OS X “Gear Menu” icon seen in the Finder and Mail will confuse people.