This post is part of a series that revisits some of our readers’ favorite articles from the past that still contain awesome and relevant information that you might find useful. This post was originally published on April 14th, 2011.
Mac OS X has a very high standard of interface design, more so than most other operating systems. This is thanks to designers to work extremely hard to make your software work the way you want it to. They may spend hours perfecting a single icon that you will use once and ignore – but it’s worth it.
Dmitry Novikov is a Russian designer who works for MacPaw, the software company that has brought you beautiful apps such as MacHider, Ensoul, and a personal favourite of mine that I couldn’t live without, CleanMyMac. Today, we’ll be talking to him about his processes, design decisions, and much more.
Tell us a little bit about the MacPaw team – where are you based, how many of you are there, and what motivates you as a company?
MacPaw is a small independent company. We passionately develop software primarily for Mac OS. There are 17 people in our team, responsible for different spheres of development and promotion of the products. Developers, designers, marketing, web-development, support, each of us is an irreplaceable part of the team.
Our company is based in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine and I’ve moved here just a month ago from Russia, because I worked remotely from there. We also have a lot of partners around the world.
How did you get into design, and, in specific, UI design?
Since my childhood, I always liked cartoons based on computer graphics and Hollywood movies with lots of CGI in them. Being a quite curious kid, it was extremely tempting for me to know how all those things are done and would it be possible to create something like that myself.
We did not have Internet access in our tiny suburban town at that time. Once I saw a poster at school saying that they were gathering a group for computer graphics training. I visited those sessions until I went to my institute. Later I was freelancing, creating sites and logos. Apart from that I enjoyed creating and optimizing software interfaces for Gnome (Linux) and this work with open source software brought a lot of experience.
One fine day, I met MacPaw CEO Oleksandr Kosovan at a freelance exchange, he ordered an icon for CleanMyMac and a company site. Oleksandr enjoyed the result a lot and I enjoyed drawing for MacPaw so we decided to work on a permanent basis.
What app interfaces are you particularly inspired by?
I thoroughly examine all interfaces, not only software. Objects from real life, whether it is a mailbox, a button panel in an elevator or a tap in a bathroom, those are all interfaces.
I like the concept of transferring real-life interfaces into virtual analogs of them. For example, the Notepad and the Books apps for iPad look like they are real and this makes the use of them really easy for an ordinary user. We tried to apply this concept in our Ensoul application
How do you approach a new project?
Here is the classic scheme that we use to create something new:
- Choose a really nice idea
- Set goals and tasks for the future project
- Discuss the functionality of the product in question, decide who will find it useful
- Create a scheme of the application, an algorithm of its usage cycle
- Create multiple interface sketches and select the most usable prototype
- Improve the selected prototype and create a design draft
- Provide the design for development to add graphics
- Test the application thoroughly
- Create final design for a release candidate
- And then we constantly receive feedback from our customers and polish polish polish, until we get a perfect application.
You add lots of fun, “eye candy” elements to your designs. Do you think that this helps the user engage in the app?
Life itself – as well as your work – must bring joy. Drawing buttons, checkboxes, progress bars and other interface elements is a real pleasure for me. And putting yourself in a role of a user, trying to see an interface with a fresh eye is always interesting.
As a rule, users are ordinary people and they love beautiful and high-quality things: leather car interiors, pleasant to the touch natural fabrics, harmonic colors. Applications are the same things, but virtual. Working with an application should bring pleasure exactly like driving a really nice car.
Your interfaces have quite a distinctive style. Was this a conscious decision to differentiate your apps from others?
There’s a lot of competition on software market and it is vital to stand out not only in advertising campaigns, but in products themselves. Our apps not only look different, they work differently as well. We and our users like this approach.
Why do you think that the Mac has such a wonderful standard of UI design compared to other platforms such as Windows and Linux?
I like all the platforms to be honest, as each of them has its advantages and disadvantages. However, Mac is more intuitive for users and it does not require a lot of time to learn the computer before you actually start using it fully.
Apple provides very usable instruments for developers and great documentation. I like that Apple treats developers like ordinary people and designers have rather good guidelines, written in a very simple language. Creating apps for Mac is very interesting and sometimes quite hilarious!
What’s your set-up like? Do you try to keep your hardware up-to-date?
Currently I work on a top-end iMac 27″. Basically it is even a little excessive in terms of hardware resources. I have a MacBook Pro 13″ at home.
The good thing is that graphic software doesn’t often raise system requirements and I work with current hardware until it starts to lag, which happens rarely. It is easier to change your Mac in the Apple world then try to upgrade internal hardware, and I recommend changing your computer every 3-4 years.
What apps do you use for interface design work, and what is your general workflow when crafting a new interface element?
Mostly I use Adobe Illustrator CS5. I think it is an ideal instrument for icons and interfaces. Besides, vector graphics provides certain advantages in terms of creation speed and flexibility of the ready components. Sometimes I also use Pixelmator and Icon Composer.
For someone interested in interface design, where would you suggest they start?
The main goal for an interface designer is to create usable things and then make these things look good. You can practice on real-life objects. Ask yourself what brings you any inconvenience or discomfort and try to improve this object or action.
Find a really unusable application and remake it on paper or in a graphic editor so that it suits your needs. Don’t be afraid to approach companies and offer to improve or remake their products.
Take older applications and redraw their interface elements, ask people if they like your result. Think of interface flexibility when you create an application, because developers would probably want to add or remove some functionality in the future.
Can you reveal anything about future MacPaw products in the pipeline?
The Mac App Store and Mac OS X Lion delayed some of our projects rather seriously. We had to introduce a lot of changes to fit new standards and requirements and basically re-build the apps almost on the very finishing steps of development.
Currently we are actively working on Ensoul and CleanMyMac 2, which will have very interesting capabilities and its interface and behavior should surprise and amuse our users.
In the near future we will also update our current CleanMyMac version and add some of CleanMyMac 2 features there. It will now have iPhoto image duplication search and some other very useful features. Also we are working on a very interesting project called DevMate. But I can’t tell you anything about it just yet!
Many thanks to Dmitry for talking to Mac.AppStorm and sharing his tips, insights and knowledge. We love meeting and learning about members of the Mac community, and Dmitry is no exception. We really appreciate his contribution, and wish him all the best with MacPaw and future software.
So, next time you use an application, have a look at its interface. That didn’t happen by accident – it was carefully planned out by skilled designers like Dmitry. Interface designers truly are the unsung heroes of Mac OS X!