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Designing for Aqua An Interview with Ivor St. John Clarke About Aquafying Office X

by Alan Graham

I took a slight hiatus from writing the past few months and during that period a few milestones passed.

· I purchased a new iBook and Mac OS X was the default operating system.

· I witnessed the year marker from when Mac OS X became my daily working environment.

· We passed the anniversary of the commercial release of Mac OS X.

During this time I began to reflect on where I initially intended my column to go and realized that my original goal of providing technical guidance for Aqua was not the direction I wanted to continue pursuing. I've received a majority of my feedback email from people who weren't asking technical questions. Specifically, they wanted to know about the philosophy of designing an Aqua UI.

This got me thinking, was there such a thing?

Sure we've had guidelines and a UI handbook from Apple, and while it was useful, it wasn't strong enough. It lacked many key elements. More than anything else, I really felt that Aqua was too new to have a clear philosophy. UI design philosophy is something that evolves and changes along with the evolution of the tools we use. But I wanted to try to define what that philosophy might be.

I have my own Aqua philosophies; however, I really wanted my column to represent more than one opinion. I want to give a balanced representation of ideas and theories. So I felt the best resource for designing Aqua applications would be the developers who have already released Aqua compliant products.

Welcome to the New Designing for Aqua

Each column I will highlight a different Mac OS X application, talk to the developers who built them, find out the challenges they faced, share some trivia, and show you some elements of their applications. At the end of each article, I'll give you the opportunity to ask the developer questions and gain insight into the problems that you may be facing. This way we all get to learn from each other. In addition, Iíll still continue to throw in a tutorial now and again.

This month we are talking to Ivor St. John Clarke of Simple Factors. Before recently starting his own UI design firm, Ivor was a Microsoft program manager in charge of guiding the transition to Aqua. Ivor was one of 15 people who worked on designing the UI changes (not to mention the testers and developers).

Related Reading

Office X for Macintosh: The Missing Manual
By Nan Barber, Tonya Engst, David Reynolds

Without a doubt, Microsoft faced a great challenge in converting their suite of applications over to Mac OS X. This project was one of the most difficult achievements any company could expect to accomplish. Let's face it, while we tend to think of Office as a singular product, it's really six different applications that had to be converted to reflect the look and feel of Aqua, and they had to release them at the same time. The fact that they accomplished this, and were one of the first major releases of a commercial application for Mac OS X, was nothing short of phenomenal.

Alan: What was the biggest challenge in bringing Microsoft Office over to Aqua?

Ivor: Without question, the biggest challenge was the sheer size of Office. With 800 dialogs and literally thousands of icons, Office presented a challenge simply in paying attention to all of the details.

We wanted to make sure that our dialogs used controls that drew with Core Graphics and that they conformed to the new layout guidelines. So although we started by looking at overall look and feel of the applications and the icons in the main toolbars, we quickly turned to the task of redesigning the dozens of custom controls that exist throughout Office while searching for a way to let us re-layout all of the dialogs.

Alan: What would you consider your greatest triumph/achievement with Aqua?

Ivor: Office applications have been around on the Mac for over a decade, so it was important that the move to Aqua didn't startle people who had been using the product for a long time. That said, we really wanted to create a new look and feel and to take advantage of some of the great technologies and features that Aqua offers. Being able to strike that balance and still have something that Steve Jobs called "...the poster child for what a Macintosh application should look like," was very satisfying.

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