Yesterday evening Apple demonstrated to the world the next version of its mobile operating system; iOS7. What makes this version so important is that it is the first to be overseen by design guru Jony Ive; the man behind the look of Apple’s hardware over the past few years.
With Jony Ive's appointment it was rumoured iOS7 would be largely redesigned under his leadership and in doing so adopt a flat design style, rather than the skeuomorphic style Apple recently came under fire for.
The result has, in fact, given birth to a largely minimal interface which borrows heavily from the principles of flat design but never fully embraces the technique. In one regard this is a good thing as Apple must be seen to be making choices that suit the majority of their user base and not just vocal designers.
Skeuomorphism isn't dead
As a technique Skeuomorphism does still have its place, though many would lead you to believe it doesn't. And in iOS7 this is true as textures and real world metaphors can still be found within iOS7, most notably in the textures of Reminders and Notes, or the animated photo background of Weather.
In the case of the Weather app, this makes for a beautiful design that helps quickly communicate information, rather than just serve a specific design style. The textures in Reminders and Notes however highlight another issue.
Within iOS7's default apps you have some apps that are largely white whilst others are largely black. There are flat colours, gradients, textures and even high gloss bubbles. These all add up to a range of apps that seem inconsistent and not obviously belonging to the same family.
Keen users will notice similarities in typography, interaction and navigation but for the most part you would be forgiven for thinking these apps were developed in isolation by numerous different design teams.
I would hope Jony Ive could have brought in a more consistent brand style to iOS7 that could spread out through other Apple products, maybe iOS8 could bring this but I doubt a major design overhaul will come so quickly again.
The inconsistency of the iOS7 apps is unfortunate but if each app provides a good experience then this will be easily forgotten, it's not like the apps are consistent in iOS6.
What is more difficult to rationalise is the god-awful app icons that has undergone the same redesign process. Here the flat design techniques have been completely disregarded in favour of the type of gradients usually abused by entry level designers.
This isn't a dig at new designers, it's just a fact that most designers whilst still learning and developing an ‘eye' for good design will utilise preset options within graphics software. These presets often include loud, bright gradients that use multiple colour hues.
As a designer develops they learn subtler gradients provide a more professional look, and that bright colours are best used sparingly on screen. The icon designers at Apple clearly haven't matured to this point and adopted awful gradients in icons that are as inconsistent as the apps they lead to.
All this hasn't put me off upgrading to iOS7 when it becomes available, the good design and the new features will, I think, far outweigh the bad. Instead what concerns me most is that the techniques adopted by Apple will be copied by other designers.
Design styles are like a virus, they spread from designer to designer infecting the world. Some will identify the trend and avoid it, some will adopt it and if it has merit the trend will stick around long-term.
But it's not just designers that can be influenced. Anyone who creates something is a designer in some way and these people also adopt design styles, mostly without thought as to its appropriateness. All the proof needed for this is the incorrect use of the font comic sans.
Some of what Apple has produced is good design and warrants wider adoption, some however isn't and I do hope that we don't see parts of iOS7 becoming a major influence on design over the coming year.