Everything that we know about the world comes from our sensory perception–what we see, touch, and hear. But more than anything else, we are visual. It determines how we move in the world around us, how we perceive and react to the physical environment and how we communicate with each other through signs and symbols.
The Apple fan-o-sphere has been buzzing about the new iOS 7 debuted at WWDC in June, exclaiming that the new design is the most dramatic departure in design styles since the birth of the iPhone. In design, we believe that design communicates and good design communicates effectively. So, what does iOS 7 communicate?
At first glance, you might wonder if you picked up the wrong phone. The colors seem to have leapt out of a third-grader’s Lisa Frank sticker collection–neon candy-colored rainbows, and lots of gradients and ombre effects.
[x]cube LABS Director of Design + Strategy Billy Zinser likened the jelly colors to the fruity assortment found in Apple’s original iMAC in 1999. Remember the delight in trying to decide which of the fruit-inspired colors (strawberry, blueberry, lime, grape and tangerine) you were going to pick? It felt personal, distinctive, and could instantly brighten your desk and your mood thanks to English designer Jonathan Ive’s careful attention to detail. He believed that design should be functionally clean and aesthetically pleasing. This emphasis on pleasure, as expressed through design, made the iMac standout.
As principal designer of iOS 7, it is Ive’s vision again that greets us. The design is flat, but ethereal with transparent layers that create depth. What do I mean by flat? Of course, the phone screen is flat, right? For the last several years, Apple designers have been working with a contradictory idea; if you make items in the digital world appear more like items in the real world, then they will be more appealing, more comforting, to those more accustomed to physical objects. It was thought of as a way to wean people off of a brick and mortar mentality. For example, you can add detail stitching, fabric textures, faux leather, or woodgrain to create a reassuring allusion to the physical world. This trompe l’oeil technique, to borrow a painting term, is referred to as skeuomorphism, borrowing necessary details from one object and placing them in another as ornament. Drop shadows and glossy reflective surfaces are tale-tell signs of physical objects, rendered unnecessary but visually satisfying when used in User Interface design.
With iOS 7, the world is, again, flat, but never boring. It is a spare and elegant world once inside the iOS 7’s updated apps. Stripping away conventions reveals a greater truth in design; this is a digital world not bound by the rules of our gravity-laden grubby existence. You can be technicolor, light, ethereal, weightless, and flat. In fact, buttons can disappear completely. We, the users, have evolved with the machines; intuitively, we follow the cues–tapping symbols or text and performing swiping motions, discovering all the different ways to navigate without delineated buttons. Lines are a hairsbreadth in width and fonts are simple, clean, and legible with a newness that belies Ultra Thin’s ancestor Helvetica Neue’s 30th birthday this year.
At first glance, iOS 7 is a visual feast for the eyes with simplified bright icons and subtle animations and behaviors that give breath and personality. It is design simplified for function and for pleasure. We’ll delve a little deeper in the next post.