iOS 7 & Twentieth Century Graphic Design. (A short design post written by an interested amateur)


Today, I’m going to write about design. In spite of my limited experience, I’m going to begin with a big topic: Apple’s iOS 7 is perhaps going to be the most controversial and most talked about “design change” to happen this year. Though it has been talked to death, I’d like to offer my input on this subject – I think I have an idea that hasn’t been explored yet (or at least, I haven’t seen anyone write about it).

It’s not daring to say that Sir Jonathan Ive (Apple’s head design man) gathers inspiration from revered industrial designer Dieter Rams. There’s no offence being seeded here – Rams has spoken well of Sir Ive’s work, and personally, I think that Sir Ive adds his own flair that shows his own expertise that in some ways counteract Ram’s philosophies (e.g. the stainless steel back on the iPod). Sir Ive adds little nods to Rams within his work. The current iOS calculator originated as a digital rendition of one of Rams most famous designs, and I believe that the new iTunes Radio logo references Ram’s iconic usage of machined holes in a circular fashion as speaker grilles.

Apple’s iOS 7 introduction video.

I believe that Sir Ive has once again seeked inspiration from design and art from the mid twentieth century. To me, iOS 7 seems to be derived from International Swiss Style – a type of graphic design. This style emphasises use of Helvetica, grid systems, block colours and symbols. Some of the new stock apps – in particular the aforementioned iTunes Radio and definitely the calendar program – seem to have been created by following the Swiss playbook down to the ground. The result is an absolutely gorgeous experience when tied with the Rams-like hardware; both the hardware and software designs find themselves rooted in twentieth century Europe – so they complement each other magnificently. It’s a rare combination, but one that when considered, looks so elegant and smooth in the promo films.

However, in iOS 7, I find there are some quizling elements. The use of gradients, dynamic backgrounds and transparencies go completely against traditional Swiss style. The icons and the colour palette don’t fit either. Some of the design elements even go against the respected rules that Rams wrote: Apple’s webpage for iOS 7 shows Reminders using a paper texture – an example of skeuomorphic design, something that does against “Good design is honest”. These of course could be Sir Ive implementing some of his own ideas; he has spoken about how the transparencies on some features add “context” to a situation. This is a very valid point. I find the gradients mocked by blogs such as “Jony Ives Redesigns Things” to be out of place. They promote a different message: one of trading visual simplicity for an appealing layer of gloss.

To conclude, I think it’s interesting to compare iOS 7 with older design movements. Personally, I think there’s still some work to be done on iOS 7, and I personally would argue that more adoption of Swiss style would be no bad thing. “Flat design” that is common in UI design today has been described by many as nothing more than a passing fad and that iOS 7 is merely being fashionable. Apple could refute this claim (and seems to be doing so) by rooting their software designs in such a timeless and classic design movement. Of course, one cannot say that Sir Ive should just cut and copy from other graphic designer’s work and be deprived of his own creative freedom. iOS is of course digital, whereas the ideas I have discussed really have their bases in traditional print design, so it is logical to add new flavour and abilities that are impossible to replicate with paper and ink (such as dynamic backgrounds and parallax). Do I like iOS 7? Yes, I think so. I am yet to see it being used in the flesh, but there are some elements that are so well considered and thought through that shows Sir Ive is a master of his craft. However, I find the use of gradients and then also block colour to be an uncomfortable tension, and I think that Ive should chose which route to take and stick with it. Many have commented that there’s something ‘not quite right’ with the new system, and I think it’s the adoption of two contradicting philosophies.


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