Welcome to the land of disenchantment: iOS 7

I find it interesting how, a couple of months on, people are starting to express their dislike of iOS 7.

You expect instant gut reactions to be negative (like your cat who hides the TV remote, people hate change), but these objections are coming from people who are power users and generally positive about Apple.

I have to join the chorus. Bits of it are okay, of course. It’s not all bad, all the time. But there are niggles, a lot of them to do with interface design and iconography. There have already been a number of links to this Tumblr blog, which critiques some aspects of the user interface design. And then there are twitter conversations like this:

Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 20.50.46

I tweeted the other day about the iOS 7 icons I hate. In particular, Newsstand is utterly horrible (Safari too). I’ve always hated gradients, in any situation, and now they are standard on Apple’s own icons, some are ones you can’t even delete: Music, iTunes Store,  Mail, Podcasts, App Store, iBooks.

The horror, the horror.

Compounding the horror, for me especially, is the choice of fucking Helvetica as the system font. This throwback to the 19th century has been dominating typography for 60 fucking years and will not go away. I honestly expected better of the company that used to have Garamond as its corporate font (albeit in a narrow version) and which moved on to Myriad, which is at least not Helvetica. The only font worse than Helvetica would be Comic Sans. It’s that bad.  I’m not the only objector, of course.

Bruno Maag: That’s the point, it is vanilla ice cream. In my whole career in typography, starting with my apprenticeship, I have never used Helvetica. Being a Swiss typographer, it’s always been Univers. Even in my apprenticeship we didn’t have Helvetica in the printshop. Then I went to Basel school of design and of course in Weingart’s workshop it was Univers, never Helvetica. Then I come to England and there’s all these designers using Helvetica! The Macintosh had just come out and Helvetica was on every single machine. Everyone was so fascinated with it … I never understood that. 

You have to come to the conclusion that when it comes to software, Jony Ive is out of his depth. The man can do hardware, though it can sometimes take three or more attempts to get right. My iPad 3 is too heavy by far. I imagine the iPad Air is better. The G4 Cube was shit, and the first Mac Mini with its external power brick was not great. So maybe it will take three or more attempts to get the iOS 7 icons right.

But will they fix the Helvetica?

The other vexing thing is the way in which the “flat” iOS 7 icons look too similar. You get two completely different apps with the same basic colour, you can accidentally tap. My icons roam around the screen randomly as I add and delete stuff, and by an unhappy coincidence, I’ve ended up with two very similar icons in the same position on two separate screens. When I say similar, I’m referring to the colour. You don’t necessarily look directly at an icon you’re tapping. Accidentally launching iBooks when I want to set my wake up alarm is really irritating.

The big dispute at Apple was supposedly about skeuomorphic design. Things in software don’t need to look like hardware. So you don’t need leather and ripped calendar pages, all that. But then, how do you represent what a thing does using an icon? iBooks still shows an open book, so why change to the flatter, less distinctive icon? Music is still a pair of musical notes. As is the iTunes store. Er…

In the end, you have to do what works best for the end user, and being all Pol Pot about it and throwing fucking Helvetica at everything is just a little bit too totalitarian. Words-for-buttons and flat icons do not work. Scrap it, Jony!

photo 2
Spot the difference

photo 1





One response to “Welcome to the land of disenchantment: iOS 7”

  1. Helvetica is the least of the problems because a system font is supposed to fade into the background. The fact that it says nothing is a feature when it is infrastructure.

    The icons, gradients, and other design cues say way, way too much. I don’t want my phone or tablet to look like a magazine from 1972. The fact that they are poorly executed (Newstand?) only makes it like you paid top dollar for a contractor and he left you with gaffer’s tape on the walls.

    And a key problem is you install an automatic update on your iOS 6.1 phone and everything changes. It’s a bait and switch. You’re teaching the user that software is ephemeral and unreliable and fleeting and beyond their control. That any expertise they gain is temporary because a boardroom fight at Apple could mean they scrap everything you know and let the hardware guys and marketing team replace it all with whatever they feel like. It really reduced the value of our investment in the platform.


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