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Some people follow standards, some people set them

I've noticed something about user interface design standards and patterns: Big designers set them, and small designers follow them.

By "big" designers I mean the designers who work for the major platforms our software runs on. Apple's iOS and macOS, Google's Android, and Microsoft's Windows.

There are exceptions to this, but generally it seems that the big players have the power to set the standards, and the small players - which are designers like myself - need to follow them.

Of course, some patterns we're used to, like radio buttons and check boxes, are from before software was a concept. Radio buttons come from car radios, and check boxes from paper forms. Big platform holders didn't set these standards, though I'm assuming radio manufacturers and paper form designers did.

These standards stick around, I believe, because they're "safe", but there are examples of these being overridden by the big platform holders. Apple did away with check boxes in iOS, and uses toggle switches instead.

I'd argue that these toggle switches are not very well designed - there's been plenty of debate about them being confusing. But Apple preferred them, so they introduced them to a platform that became a standard in mobile application design. As a result, I've seen a lot more toggle switches used in designs that weren't necessarily meant for iOS. That style of toggle switch has become a standard, and it didn't get that way by being well designed.

However, because it's a standard, there's a chance that the poor design choices are not a big problem: If people are generally familiar with these style of toggle switches because they're everywhere, then any consequences of bad design don't last very long - each person quickly gets used to them.

I wonder if the same could have been said for radio buttons and check boxes, when they were first introduced?

There is a risk that comes with trying something new, but that risk is easier to take, in some ways, for a big company like Apple or Google. Since their devices are in the hands of billions of people, those design decisions quickly become well known, and this papers over potential design issues.

A small designer like myself, however, needs to follow those standards, because my designs will be seen by hundreds, or maybe thousands of people. Any new pattern or interaction I introduce does not have much chance to be successful.

Companies like Apple and Google are relying on millions of people knowing how their software works, before those people have even turned on their new phone. I can't help but think that might be a dangerous direction to head in.

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