The GUIdebook is a fantastic archive of OS and application screenshots from the past twenty-plus years. I spent an hour last night browsing through it and rediscovering many old, almost-forgotten friends, including Mac OS 8.0. I could probably write a few pages on how nostalgic this website makes me, but it would bore you to tears.

What I will mention instead is the gallery of splash screens available at GUIdebook. Remember that the splash screen is the first component of your product that customers will ever see. It is also the only UI element your users are guaranteed to see every time they launch your product. Personally, I think this behooves every software developer to make sure the splash screen is attractive and elegant.

Much to my chagrin, the splash screen as a feature tends to get the shaft during product development. Minimal resources are expended to ensure it looks good and polished, and no one even remembers to ask design to update it until it’s almost too late to check in any changes. Except for Adobe, it seems. Adobe’s products have had gorgeous splash screens for years now, and I’m always excited to see what they’ve done with it every time a new version is released. The splash screen makes me feel like Adobe’s products are more dynamic, or powerful, or aesthetically refined, or cool. This is a totally illogical, purely emotional response, but that’s just the way these things work.

Take a look at the splash screens for InDesign or Photoshop. They share many design similarities, which gives them the feeling of being part of a cohesive whole - MS Office and Visual Studio are great at this, too. Office and VS have not historically been good about providing splash screens that are terribly attractive, though. Just cohesive.

Adobe’s splash screens also have many ‘frivolous’ aesthetic touches, like a drop shadow and non-rectangular elements (look at the butterfly offset from the main body of the InDesign splash screen and the rounded corners), which give me an incredibly positive impression of their products every time I launch one. The only complaint I can lodge against Adobe’s splash screens is that they list every single friggin patent that applies to the product front and center. I suppose no one is perfect, right?

So, just to recap, what’s the value proposition for spending precious development resources enhancing your splash screen? It’s simple: people judge books by their covers, and applications by their splash screens. Make a good first impression, because you won’t be able to make a second one.