June 20, 2013


It has been over a week since Apple first showed off their Jony Ive redesign of iOS7, and I've had time to think (and more importantly, use). My gut reaction was simple — after 37 years, that is the sum of Apple's design ability?

But given more thought, I realized I never tend to find Apple's designs particularly attractive. Look at iOS's purple beveled alerts or periwinkle gradient default topbar. Or look at how long OSX was rocking the brushed metal look.

Apple has a unique ability to create ugly designs, but to do so with such confidence and panache that it somehow becomes attractive. They're the Steve Buscemi of design.

In fact, the beauty in Apple's design has never been on its own merit, but rather in how it inspires. The default Apple iOS app template may be ugly, but it has bogotten beautiful apps of various flavors, ranging from Path to Mailbox to Rdio — not to mention thousands of lesser known but stunningly beautiful apps.

They've managed to find the right balance between freedom and constraint in their iOS Human Interface Guidelines, inspiring amazing derivatives while keeping the entire system unified. The apps are incredibly unique and different, yet still feel similar. Android's stance is far too lax and makes the system feel disjointed, while Metro has taken an approach that is entirely way too restrictive.

Jane McGonigal was talking about games, but it applies here as well: in golf, the object is to get the ball in the hole. Starting 300 yards away and using a stick are unnecessary constraints, however often these obstacles provoke curosity and creativity1. Design is all about limits, which counterintuitively enable creativity rather than stifle it.

One interesting change is that their design language this time is almost exclusively motion. The static visual design will only be a small part of the puzzle, and we'll soon start seeing the title of Motion Designer on business cards. Traditional tools like Photoshop or Illustrator aren't going to cut it anymore, and a lot of designers are going to be left with inadequate technical skillsets to produce mockups. However, it does give developers and designers an entirely new dimension to work with.

This is a huge step for iOS, which has remained virtually unchanged over the past 7 years. The original iOS design was effectively timeless — 7 years is an eternity in the tech world. We'll have to wait to see what apps iOS7 inspires before we can really judge if they've done it again.

So, no, I'm still not a fan. I think the psychedelic palate and the wireframey look leave a lot to be desired. But maybe that's exactly the point.

About Gregory Koberger

I'm a freelance developer and designer, formerly of Mozilla. I talk a lot about web development, technology and user experience — sometimes on my blog but mostly on Twitter.

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