Ello went viral last week as a “simple, beautiful, and ad-free” alternative to Facebook. Never mind that its indie rock model is entirely unoriginal; it is also an atrocious example of minimalist design.
The casual observer may see copious amounts of negative space, along with a bold black, white, and gray color scheme, and conclude that this must be a well-designed product. But as Jeffry van der Goot points out on Medium, Ello isn’t well-designed. It’s the artifice of good design. Here’s how:
1. Negative space is deployed randomly, failing to draw focus to the feed, profile, comments, or UI elements.
2. Spartan user interface elements make it impossible to tell personal messages from buttons from text fields.
3. Geometric motifs–circles and rectangles used for buttons, icons, and avatars–mix in a way that has no grounding logic.
4. There’s no restraint on responsive animations–as you mouse and click over the site, elements are constantly growing and shrinking in a way that makes it hard to find firm footing.
5. Bold fonts. ALL CAPS. Underlines. Ugh.
All of these decisions add up to an interface that is anything but intuitive, forcing your eyes to zigzag around the screen to figure out what is going on. I found Ello to be entirely unusable, and on top of that, a painfully dull aesthetic to boot. And it’s why, for all of those crazy signup statistics you read from Ello last week–as many as 4,000 new users per hour–you probably won’t be reading any major usage statistics in coming weeks.
Say what you will about Facebook’s bloated mess of a desktop interface, but a billion people figured out how to use the thing (at least enough to like a photo or creep on an ex). Ello is like the product of a design school undergrad who just watched Helvetica for the first time and decided he’d absorbed enough to drop out. And I guess that worked well enough for the first 15 minutes.