The "live app" constant UI change era is hell on old people

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bigsocrates

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This isn't about games at all (really) but I need to vent. My mom is old and knows a lot of old people. Almost all of them used computers during their working days and want to continue using them for various purposes like shopping and email and watching video in retirement, as well as consulting work or whatever else they do.

Almost all of them are struggling because of how often applications now change their UI, usually silently through background updates.

It's constant. It's jarring even for me, a middle aged tech-savvy guy who can usually figure this stuff out. You'll be using an app one day and the next it will have totally rearranged its menus and access bars, almost always to no actual benefit and burying old functions in entirely new places. A lot of user control and functionality is being eroded. Windows wants you to save everything you download into a downloads folder for some idiotic reason and not every save interaction offers the save as function, which used to be ubiquitous. It seems to think this is streamlining, and maybe it's something that the younger gens expect because of how much they use mobile, but it sucks.

But what really sucks is watching people struggle because their menus are constantly being rearranged. We all know that old people struggle with change. It's not just being set in their ways or emotionally stunted, the brain's ability to relearn things dips with age, and having to constantly rewrite memory pathways is really really hard. Many of us have worked with old people who insisted on their emails being printed because they couldn't learn how to use the systems. Now people are being asked to relearn them every few months or years.

I don't really get what the purpose of all this is. As I said it doesn't improve functionality as far as I can tell. It seems more to give people something to do with mature products (after a certain point you don't need many changes to a program or service, it just needs upkeep) and maybe to try and make it look like things are progressing even though they're often not. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons like integrating with new services like Zoom or Teams, but even then it could be done in a less disruptive way.

This is something that people aren't talking about because nobody cares about old people but it sucks for me, personally, to watch. If we're lucky we're all going to be old some day so hopefully we can be treated with a little consideration and not have 28 year old designers decide to move the save button to a different menu where we can't find it just for shits and giggles.

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Nocall

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Wild baseless speculation: front-end development has gotten extraordinarily easier every passing year. Folks used to need to know at least a little coding to do front end dev, creating a little bit of an entry barrier, but now any j-hole with a 4 week online degree can do front end dev. In conclusion: things changed less when they were harder to change and required more consideration. Now it’s quite literally too easy. Rant over.

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Ben_H

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Yes. This is a big problem and is quite annoying. As much as tech companies love to talk about how great their apps are, it feels like they've completely lost the plot when it comes to user experience the last decade or so. Form has completely overtaken function in terms of priority and change seems to happen for the sake of change (or to make more ad space) rather than as a means of making the app better for the user. Everyone chases the clean UI designs of Apple, Google, and Netflix but miss all of the little things those companies include in their UIs and the lessons those companies have learned that make their UIs good. They also all chase trends, cramming more features people don't actually want into their apps which force them to redo their UI to fit in the new thing. The result is that tons of apps now feel like the application equivalent of The Homer where they have a bunch of needless features getting in the way of users using the app for what they wanted it for in the first place.

The perfect example for this is Spotify. Spotify loves to move primary functionality around every few months or even bury it in menus. For years, Spotify had a search bar at the top of the menu on their desktop app. Then one day it disappeared and you had to navigate to a separate page from your home page in the app to search for anything. Then they put the search bar back. Then they took it away again. It was extremely bizarre given how integral search is to using Spotify. Finally they gave it a dedicated button but it took multiple years of them messing with it and arbitrarily moving it for this to happen. How Spotify shows your music library and playlists also changes every few months and never for the better. They used to default to showing predominantly your music library and algorithmic playlists specifically made for you on the home screen. That's not the case now. Instead the home screen is mostly them pushing popular artists and their generic playlists on you along with audio books and podcasts. To get back to your music you have to navigate a couple screens.

Something that's really driven this sentiment home for me has been going back to old tech. I've been on an old tech kick for the last 8 months. In November I started using a classic clickwheel iPod again for music most of the time instead of Spotify. The iPod UI from 19-20 years ago is still better than any music app I've used. Obviously there's no discovering new music (since the thing has no internet), but in terms of navigating a music library and playing music, it's extremely simple and efficient. I also have been using an Xbox 360 with the "new Xbox experience" era UI (the one after the blades). That UI is generally better than the UI included with the Series consoles. There's more informational density, most major functionality is fewer button presses away, and there are fewer sub-menus for everything to be buried in. Most menus are at most one or two layers deep. The buttons actually look like buttons and everything is clearly labeled rather than relying on symbols. You can also customize the UI and change the background. The modern Xbox UI is a big step backward from this and largely it seems like it is because they want to maximize as much space for ads and promotional material as possible. The takeaway from both of these cases is that neither actually feel old or outdated to use. Despite how slow the hardware they are on, the UIs feel just as fast as modern ones. More than likely, because of the hardware these UIs had to be efficient and slick since they would have choked if they were full of all the junk a lot of modern interfaces are. It's also driven home that most interfaces these days are just reinventing the wheel for the sake of doing so and aren't actually doing anything new or revelatory.

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mellotronrules

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#4  Edited By mellotronrules
@ben_h said:

The perfect example for this is Spotify.

it's true. spotify is so terrible when it comes to the amount of steps it requires for you to just get to your music. and despite their failed podcast misadventure they're still trying to convince me that i really want to listen to real crime podcasts (to which i say, never have- and likely never will).

@ben_h said:

It's also driven home that most interfaces these days are just reinventing the wheel for the sake of doing so and aren't actually doing anything new or revelatory.

i know the saying goes "never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity," but i guess i'd ask 'but what about money?'

i have to imagine these big platforms are actively holding monetization in one hand, and UI heatmaps in the other, and are constantly trying to smash them together in an attempt to covertly drive customers to their latest initiatives. otherwise why else would Spotify ask me if i'm interested in audiobooks when i'm just trying to listen to Drug Church.

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smikwily

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#5  Edited By smikwily

I will add to this train wreck with a call my dad recently made. He has a smart phone, but barely knows how it works. He can get into Facebook and YouTube, but can't check his voicemail or text messages. He called his ISP (local cable provider) and they wanted him to use their app to troubleshoot his connection issues he's been having with his Google Home and some random connection drops. To top it off, their local office (which is where they would dispatch support from) is 1/4 mile from his house.

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PeezMachine

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#7  Edited By PeezMachine

I just installed Windows 10 and the first thing I did was *everything in my power to get back to the old layout*. Why in the hell would they move the taskbar buttons to the middle? It's so much easier to just slam your cursor to the corner!

edit: yes i meant 11 oops

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Ben_H

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I just installed Windows 10 and the first thing I did was *everything in my power to get back to the old layout*. Why in the hell would they move the taskbar buttons to the middle? It's so much easier to just slam your cursor to the corner!

I'm guessing you mean Windows 11 but yes, moving the bar to the middle is certainly a choice. I think the intent is they want people to use the Windows key more, but let's be real most people do the extreme majority of their interactions with a computer with mouse/trackpad only. Having UI stuff that is frequently clicked in corners is a thing for a reason. A bunch of research has been done on this and conclusively found corners are the easiest location to aim for when clicking on commonly used things like the start button, "close window" button or primary functions of an application. Though in general, Windows 11 does a lot of weird, counterintuitive things that suck. That weather/news/widgets thing in the bottom left corner is also gross because it seems tailored to get people to habitually click it, which is icky since it has ads and a bunch of sometimes tabloid quality news articles that Microsoft makes money from on clickthroughs if you click them and then more money since most of the MSN articles are crammed full of even more ads.

Add to that them moving a bunch of things around again and it seems like they've done a whole bunch of change in ways that don't benefit the user but do help make Microsoft even more money. I've been using the OS for over a year now and it's been kind of wild watching them change it and fill it with more garbage as time goes on.

My dad decided to update his laptop to Windows 11 without any heads up and ever since I've been dealing with question after question of "how do you do X?" since they completely rearranged a bunch of basic functionality again. It's annoying.