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Sir Ive Puts His Foot Down

Jony Ives

Apple’s “new” Senior Vice President of Industrial Design Sir Jonathan Ive took on the additional role of also being of in charge of the iOS Alu.. Alumino.. Chrome when Scott Forstall moved into an advisory position.

In the latest update to the Podcasts.app I believe we are seeing the first hint of the fresh breeze that Jony is bringing to Apple’s app design.

The unword that definitely plagued Apple in 2012 was Skeuomophism. It means to make something look like it has different physical properties than it really would have. Like the Gamecenter app showing green felt when touching it really feels like touching glass to me.

Other examples include leather-bound digital calendars, the style of the Find my Friends app and a few more attempts to make iOS look more valuable by including expensive materials or craftsmanship.

Apple also got much ridicule over the decision to show a tape deck behind a podcast’s cover art.

While being a fun experiment you have to be older than 30 years to even emotionally understand what you are seeing here. Younger people haven’t ever seen a tape deck in operation, let alone formed fond memories of the drawbacks that the physical tape medium had.

Do you remember rewinding audio tape cassettes with a lead pen?

Before Jony After Jony

Good riddance! Of tape decks real and imagined.

The design changes in the Podcast app speak a clear language of simplicity, removal of space-wasting eye-candy and symmetry. One thing I hated about prior versions was that you would step backward in 10 second increments but forward 30 seconds each. In version 1.2 they made it symmetric to be 15 seconds both ways. Symmetry is beauty.

The second indication of a new direction in design is the difference between the buttons. While the old version tries to emulate physical buttons, keeping with Apple’s patented rounded rectangles the new style does not need additional cues to tell the UI story. It is obvious from the contrast between the icons and the back shaded background that there is interactivity to be had there.

So I think the main themes that Jony Ive is bringing to OS design are:

  • symmetry visually and in functionality
  • abolish eye candy which is done “because we can”.
  • less rounded rectangles, only use them where a state is being communicated, like on the 1x button
  • visual contrast without noise, light colors communicating interactivity, dark colors being the backdrop
  • simplify navigation, use space well to eliminate the need to go into unnecessary modal dialogs.

Pundits are already writing pieces arguing that certainly the next iOS version will have a brand new flat design. To this I say: bullshit!

If what we know about Jony’s tastes then “flatness” is certainly not a part of that. I don’t think that there is much risk that iOS will turn into a cousin of Android (which is totally flat) or Windows Phone (also flat and tiles).


Categories: Apple, Design

10 Comments »

  1. The reel-to-reel tape deck was clearly anachronistic, but I’m afraid I don’t find much to admire in the updated design.

    The old version at least has some structural cues to help the controls relate to each other in a logical manner. The transport controls were all in the same general area of the UI. The play/rewind/skip ahead controls, which affect playback of the current track, were visually grouped and set apart from the next/previous track buttons, which change the track that’s playing. The less important controls (speed, share, and sleep timer) were shadowed a bit to make them less prominent.

    In the updated version, the controls seem to have been plopped on the screen pretty much at random. Doesn’t it seem a bit strange that the timeline is as far as it can possibly be from the other transport controls? And what the heck is up with the timeline being part of the navigation header bar? That’s just weird.

    I’m sure people will have no problem operating the new UI. But it’s not a functional and meaningful improvement; it’s just pointless restyling. This isn’t where Apple should be expending its design energy.

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