I’ve been using Safari ever since I got my Macbook Pro 3 years ago. On that first day, I probably spent no more than 5 minutes deciding between browsers, and I remember the reason pretty clearly. “It just looks better,” I told friends who questioned why I wasn’t using Chrome.
This morning I read “How Apple is Giving Design a Bad Name” by Don Norman and Bruce Tognazzini, and it coincidentally related to my recent decision of switching from Safari to Google Chrome. The main message I got from the article was that Apple is increasingly emphasizing its minimal aesthetic in their products at the cost of usability. This made me wonder about my own loyalty towards Apple — what was it about Safari that made me stick around for years after a decision made within just 5 minutes?
First, I thought about the reasons that compelled the switch:
- I recently began an online UX design course, and Chrome provides many super convenient extensions (where has Fontface Ninja been all my life)
- It was super easy to import and organize all of my bookmarks from Safari
However, there were also reasons that I ignored within the last few years, including useful extensions for YouTube and being able to video chat on Facebook (which only works for Chrome and Firefox). Whenever I had to mirror a YouTube video or receive a video call on Facebook, I would have to swipe between Safari and Chrome. Even if just by a small margin, my life would’ve been simpler had I just switched to Chrome the first instance I realized I needed some of its features. In comparison, I didn’t need anything from Safari that wasn’t on Chrome.
Now we’re back to the question: Why was I using Safari in the past few years?
While I agree with Norman and Tognazzini that Apple did sacrifice aspects of user experience for the sake of aesthetics, the influence of brand identity shouldn’t be forgotten. (Not that they forgot. They actually pointed out that it’s because of Apple’s success as a brand that users accept the decline in learnability and usability.) When I said, “It just looks better,” I was really thinking about how using Safari would match my MacBook, my iPhone, my self-identity as an Apple user. It was about brand consistency, and my experience is an example of why branding is a core principle to product design.
I wouldn’t consider myself a die hard fan of Apple (an iSheep?), but I realize that I, and many other consumers, consider branding more often than we might consciously realize. This reflection helped me understand how a product is often built on compromises between branding, usability, and many other aspects of design, although the best products are ones in which these compromises are unnoticeable to the user.