Designed in 2 Minutes?

Friday, October 22, 2004

Media player skins

Media players are becoming more and more commonplace on the average user's desktop as digital media becomes mainstream. WinAMP, XMMS, iTunes, RealOne, Windows Media Player... the list goes on.

I honestly don't know who thought of the idea first, but for some reason way back in history, someone decided to go completely against all pre-written style guides and implement totally different user interfaces for media players. The analogy chosen is most commonly something resembling a personal CD player, with stylised buttons for the different commands (play, stop, rewind, etc).

With the unusual interface also came the idea of 'skinning' - putting a fancy wrapper on the application to make it look different compared to the rest of the desktop. Although this again goes completely against all desktop style guides, it's become the norm now and people would probably be quite unimpressed by a bland grey window with a pull-down menu for accessing the commands to play your CD.

The trouble with skinning is that, in order to make them more visually appealing, designers often model the skins on real-world objects, for example a car stereo or a home Hi-fi system. Many skins like this contain lots of design 'features' (dials, knobs and buttons) which look like they should be buttons, but then the user can often sit there looking bewildered, clicking on random inactive parts of the player expecting an action to be performed.

Therefore it's important that skins are designed to be functional first, with no confusing extra bits to the design, and to look good second.


Post a Comment

<< Home