Max Rudberg on “minimal” app designs that rely on non-obvious gestures:
These apps have chosen to reduce details to achieve a minimal UI, but in the process the UI has also become harder to use. Unfortunately a UI walkthrough is quite an inelegant way to explain the core functionality of an app. It can be a frustrating obstacle before you can dive into an app, and you have to remember all of those new ways of using it once you get in.
The most important design goal for most apps should be that they’re usable. And then, further down the list — maybe second, maybe tenth, depending — should be attractiveness or adherence to a particular aesthetic.
Some aesthetics play nicely with usability, but minimalism can be very challenging. In Build and Analyze 100, I discussed my goal of not having a settings screen in The Magazine 1.0, how that goal forced me to make worse design decisions in other areas, and that relenting and adding a settings screen in 1.1 resulted in a better overall design. I had let an aesthetic choice take precedence over usability and practicality, and the app was much better after I got my priorities straight.
The argument is more complex for Clear, an app Rudberg cites. A major part of Clear’s visual appeal and explosive success was its extremely sparse interface. Had Clear opted for a few more visual accents and controls to increase usability, it may not have been noticeable enough among the hundreds of other iOS to-do apps to sell more than a few thousand copies.
So the answer, as always, is “It depends.”