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Roboto and the open source red herring

I largely agree with John Gruber and many others than Roboto is a bit of an ungainly beast of a font, although it’s much better than the hideous thing it replaces. But I think that John is missing the mark in this statement:

This idea that designers who favor iOS criticize Android for being poorly designed just because it’s from an Apple competitor is nonsense — a bogeyman construct dreamed up by open source zealots who refuse to believe over a decade of evidence that open source UIs tend to be ugly, and that ugly UIs tend to be unpopular.

Being open source has nothing to do with it. Like almost everything in Android, Roboto is designed, used and built at the instigation of Google: it’s not like Roboto was created by an amateur font creator sat in a basement who wanted to contribute to a project.

Android’s design deficiencies have nothing to do with the source being open. Android’s design deficiencies are down to Google not being great at designing consumer products. Android could be completely closed, and it would still look the same.

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  • http://andybold.me.uk Andy Bold

    I didn’t read it as a statement about Android alone but open source GUIs in general.

    You just need to look at Gnome and KDE to understand how horrific they can be. Both are taking steps in the right direction (in fact, about 30 minutes ago I was suggesting to a colleague that Gnome Shell might be -erm- “inspired” by OSX), but they are still a long way from being where they need to be.

    I was That Open Source Guy until a few years ago so I’ve been around the OSS GUI block a few times. I could never settle on a desktop environment because, honestly, they all had serious shortcomings. The open, sometimes-more-democratic-than-it-should-be process is great at compromising and it’s the end users who suffer.

    Back on Roboto – Google didn’t pull this out of thin air. They should have saved some Moto money and effort and licensed Helvetica instead.

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  • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    Totally take your point, Andy, but I think that John is attempting to say that Android has a sucky interface BECAUSE it’s open source. It doesn’t: Google totally controls the design of Android in a way which isn’t always true of open source development in general. Android’s design would be the same if it was a closed project, which means the pop at open source is a bit of misdirection on John’s part.