is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
Any time an iOS app wants to give you access to your own photos, it must first ask you for permission to do so. This is understandable, because you don’t want just any app you download to be able to have its way with your photo library. But the way that the operating system asks for permission is problematic.
A Defective Dialog
If any of the photos in your library contain location data — basically if you’ve taken any pictures with the device’s built-in camera, which in addition to snapping an image also embeds GPS data into each shot — then the dialog box that pops up to ask you for permission looks like this:
From a technical perspective, this dialog box makes sense, because the sensitive information at question isn’t the photos but the location data. Nevertheless, it’s a very confusing way to ask the question, because most users don’t think of their photos as being anything more than just that — photos. But this dialog appears to regard photos as containers of location data, and emphasizes that characteristic more than any other.
One of the key features of our app Mixel is the ability to use your own photos to make collages. Naturally, we need to allow people to access their own photo libraries. That means that a majority of Mixel users encounter this dialog after installing our app, and we see again and again that its somewhat unclear phrasing trips many of them up. Many users think to themselves, “My current location? I don’t see a reason to give this app access to that data; all I want is to use my own photos,” and then they tap “Don’t Allow.”
It would be one thing if that could be reversed easily, but once the user taps “Don’t Allow,” for all intents and purposes the app never gets direct access to the photo library. That’s an exaggeration, but in truth there are only two ways to allow the user to change his or her mind, neither of which are elegant. The first option is to delete the app entirely and reinstall it fresh from the App Store, at which point the app will present the same dialog box when users try to access their own photos for the first time.
The second option is to ask the user to dive into the Settings app in order to manually reverse the relevant preference, which is not exactly an intuitive process. In Mixel, we present the user with an instructional graphic in place of the photos that would normally appear; the graphic directs the user to open up the Settings app, tap on “Location Services,” find the setting for Mixel and switch that on.
It’s all a bit of a headache, but it could be cured so easily with a simple copywriting change. Any number of common-sensical edits would help clarify the message; it wouldn’t take a poet to find the right combination. It just goes to show how important good copywriting is to good interface design.
I hope this is something that gets corrected in the next version of iOS.+