CR Blog

iOS7: A refreshing return to clarity

Digital, Graphic Design, Type / Typography

Posted by Malcolm Garrett, 24 September 2013, 17:39    Permalink    Comments (34)

Ten years ago Malcolm Garrett attempted to suggest to Jonathan Ive that it might be time to ditch skeuomorphic design. With the release of iOS7 he appears to have had that wish granted. We asked the digital pioneer for his creative assessment of the recent OS upgrade...

It is already ten years since Jonathan Ive was named Designer of the Year by the Design Museum. It is therefore ten years since Creative Review first asked me to talk to him to coincide with that award.

The brief was to speak 'designer to designer', with some discussion of his growing portfolio of groundbreaking products, and to hopefully elicit some informed insight into his personal approach to design.

He had just presented the sleek new range of G4 Titanium PowerBooks but, of course, the iPhone, whose touch screen interface would change computing forever, was not yet so much as a twinkle in his eye.

I brought up the subject of the then relatively new OSX interface. This was an important issue for me. I felt there was a major disconnect between the efficient simplicity and beauty of his hardware design and what users encountered on their screens.

I had only recently upgraded to OSX and I was not yet a fan, despite its functional superiority over OS9. I had been put off from the outset just by the way it looked, a sad confession that aesthetics were blinding me to improved usability.

My thinking was that the visual tone was far too 'Walt Disney', with a cartoon-like pursuit of visual realism in the drawing of icons with shadows, bevels and fake three-dimensionality. The term 'skeuomorphic' had been around since the 19th century, but it had never seemed more appropriately applied than in the world of software, which has few physical parallels with 'real' tools and machinery.

I voiced a concern about the loss of what had always been a clear, easy-to-use interface – one that graphic designers loved – to be replaced with a brighter, more colourful, dumbed-down array of big buttons and 'friendly' picture-driven screen tools.

This was such an irony given that graphic designers had been a core market for Apple products since the launch of the Mac 20 years previously.

Jonathan Ive's response was not what I expected. He refused to comment at all, simply stating that he was not the person to talk to about it.

Ten years later, now that he has publicly criticised the older interface and replaced it with this fresh review, I now get some hint that he may well have been thinking along the same lines as me back then. He was far too smart, and professionally constrained of course, to engage in any 'loose talk' at the wrong moment.

Naturally then, I see this new iPhone operating system as a welcome progression, as it dramatically reverses the trend towards excessive skeumorphism.

It's been a long time coming, but the difference is evident right from the first screen. The typography is lighter and has a refreshing clarity, and all unnecessary frames, bevels and shadows around buttons, panels or onscreen instructions (such as 'slide to unlock') have been omitted to pleasing effect.

At first glance some aspects do seem a bit rushed, but for the most part I really like it. Some screens really are very pleasing – the compass (above) is a technical delight for instance. Some of the top level things, funnily enough the ones you would notice first, work less well.

Thankfully iOS7 hasn't pursued the wholly squared-off look of the latest Windows OS, and has retained the rounded corners of the iOS6 desktop icons.

I do think, though, that these would have benefited from a reduction of corner radius to complement the sharpness of the illustrations that adorn them. My first impression is that they tend to feel a bit too flat, the colours a little garish, and the detail and typography too thin.



The more I use it, however, the more I come to appreciate and enjoy it.

I had never noticed before that the letters on the keyboard keys are all in caps, even when typing in lower case. It has always been that way, but it jumped out at me as 'mistake' when I first saw it here. I'm not sure that is a good thing.

Going back to check its predecessor again, I now see though that those keys are just too blobby and already feel old fashioned. The new keys are much clearer, they even seem bigger.

Whether Helvetica is the right font to be really forward looking and an 'honest' choice for a really contemporary interface is debatable. Given its modernist origins, and the way that for many designers it has come to suggest the best in 'information design', it too is arguably skeumorphic in its own subtle way.

After I've had more time to explore, I will hopefully come back with a more considered critique. In the same way that I found effortless joy, and unanticipated pleasure in small details when using the first generation iPhone screen, I am hoping to find much more below the surface of this one.

I hope it is more than a cosmetic upgrade, but for now at least it is a welcome cosmetic upgrade.

Malcolm Garrett (RDI) is creative director at communications consultancy, Images&Co. See


Jonny Ive. Genius.
Glen Barry
2013-09-25 06:36:51

Hate it.

Red white and blue Helvetica is hardly minimalistic IMHO.

Plus if you group apps into sets you get bloody grey blobs all over the place. Yuk!

Almost a total cock up.
Michael Preston
2013-09-25 07:15:55

skeumorphic was a bad idea, but iOS 7 is million times more horrible. what a joke. and what's up with the maddening UI convulsions? is it part of Jony Ive's "simplicity"?
2013-09-25 08:04:14

This is the reason I switched from iphone to a windows phone last month.
If you don't mind not being able to download 28 billion apps, and are content with a a couple of hundred thousand instead, then it's far a better phone.

Just go try the interface, it's the stuff UI dreams were made of.
2013-09-25 09:58:55

The settings icon looks like a robots hole.
2013-09-25 10:09:33


Gets better the more I use it. Does feel a little too high on the garish-o-meter—had hoped I'd get used to it over time, but hasn't happened yet!
2013-09-25 10:18:30

It was time the apple interface needed to take a new direction, it really has had a childish feel to it for so long now. However, iOS7 to me feels like a step backwards, the garish icons almost strain my eyes and the big rounded corners feel like a twelve year olds 'my first design'. The software in general is unstable, apps freezing up & buttons getting lost behind frame edges being the major usability issues I've found.

It's time the OS was customisable, I'm a designer, apple has always been a designers market, so why not allow us to design our own icons and interface layouts
2013-09-25 10:57:26

As a trilingual human (i guess not like ios developpers) Keyboards change (globe icon) is simply a nightmare. It takes so much time. Keyboards are much better on android
Eduard xandri
2013-09-25 11:05:31

I've been having a love/hate relationship with it, but increasing the default weight of the type has improved matters. Still pretty sluggish on an iPhone 4 though.
Dan Drummond
2013-09-25 11:53:15

Very hard to get used to. Almost seems to have dated the iPhone.

The multiple tabs in Safari seems very old fashioned - it was fine swiping left to right.

And everything is so zoomy!
Side by Side
2013-09-25 12:31:56

I love how much discussion this update has generated!
I remember an article in CR way back when Windows phone updated their OS with the gorgeous squares and elegant Type & thought then, Apple really need to take some lessons here!

I was pretty shocked Apple had updated so radically in one swift move! It has felt like using a completely different phone & a real mixed bag.
There are a great deal of good things about it - much of the typography treatment is worlds better, the paired back approach to the visuals is something I've been waiting for for a LONG time (I LOVE the compass too!) - and apps are trying much less to look like their analogue counterparts.

But as you say, much of the top-level doesn't work for me. It seems a little disjointed & unfinished. The icons are too vibrant and naive, instead of cool. They don't work together as a set in appearance or colour.
Plus there is too much grey!

I fear that iOS7 may have reduced the status of the iphone a little, with less separating it from other advanced smart-phones on the market.
2013-09-25 13:17:18

Bunch of moaners. Of course its 'imperfect' (translated as, not quite as every individual would like it to be to suit their aesthetic preferences and functional needs) but I admire Apple all the more for the bravery to change course. I agree that sadly the best changes are the most hidden, but overall it feels like a big step in the right direction.
Luke Tonge
2013-09-25 13:43:53

Am rather liking it so far (after tweeking a few settings to get my battery life back to normal!). Love the update to how Safari handles multiple pages.
Martin Price
2013-09-25 14:28:37

Haters gonna hate
2013-09-25 14:42:20

At least you could write the word correctly? It's skeuomorphism...
2013-09-25 15:34:40

Overall I like it BUT it still doesn't respond to it's biggest issue - the boring nature of just listing out apps on a screen. I bet if he thought he could get away with it, Johnny Ive would copy Windows dynamic, social centric OS in a heart beat.
2013-09-25 16:07:16

The OS7 update made didn't make me think or feel anything whatsoever. Calm down boys, it's only a phone.
Tom B
2013-09-25 17:24:06

@ hansmex

That's fixed, thanks. Not interested in anything else in the piece then?
CR PatrickBurgoyne
2013-09-25 17:45:00

Haha, its funny how these poor saps always compare it with other phone brands. Yet, I never hear anyone moan about the changes or products from windows or android, cause no one gives a crap about how they "innovate", it's rarely redical (if it wasn't for the first iphone). If you're from the creative industry (and i hope you are) you know this is one of the ways to progress: give them something new to moan about. Like people used to do in the dark ages.
2013-09-26 11:28:14

I need to pick up my dry-cleaning.
2013-09-26 14:17:58

It was always going to be a hot topic - personally I think there are some great design aspects and some that are a little naive in their treatment. Colours a little obvious too? Overall though, it does look fresh and a welcome overhaul. It just could have been a little more edgy.

Is it not the case that Johnny Ive, great product designer as he is, is perhaps not the best person to take charge of a graphics/UI project? I'd say it requires someone who lives and breathes typography, colours and UI day in day out?
HTDL Design Agency
2013-09-26 15:08:46

I find it quite childish looking. I do hear it a lot around me, too. People say it looks like a candyphone. I can't really argue with that, since Apple did want something 'retro' i guess? Could have been a little sleeker and a bit more mature. Functionality is great though. I like the OS on my iphone 5. Anyone here know if it's worth it getting an iPhone 5s (since the new iOS is standard on it)?

2013-09-26 20:56:56

I like it, I think it's simple and effective. It beats the hell out of all those phones you used to have to hang off a belt. Change is good. Oh and guess what... you can call your friends on it too. How incredible.
2013-09-27 09:11:43

I am loving ios7, I think it might have put Apple back in the game!
2013-09-27 10:08:53

I think iOS 7 is an improvement - the main thing that really lets it down are those new icons.

I'm not sure it was the best idea to have Apple's marketing team design them, rather than the app/development teams.
Christopher Hipson
2013-09-27 12:06:59

This is simply a disaster. Gaudy colors over pure white backgrounds. Text based controls. Flat, out of the tube colors. Sloppy layout.
I mean, what could be worse than that.
I'm desperate, furious to the how a duet of ignorant managers killed so swiftly what Steve Jobs built.
The most interesting part is to see how self-proclaimed pundit just don't dare to criticize iOS7.
2013-09-27 15:27:17

The new type styling for the keyboard is not friendly for those with vision issues.
2013-09-28 01:03:10

There are no eternal innovators. I think it is downhill from here for Apple
Mark Jan Meerdink
2013-09-28 20:45:56

@Dom As the 'self-proclaimed pundit' I believe you are referring to, you will note if you read more closely that I do criticise iOS7.

I question the somewhat garish use of flat colour, the simplistic drawing of icons and, not least, the choice of Helvetica as the main font throughout. @Chris I agree that amongst other things this font is too fine for this purpose.

I do welcome the progression from the misplaced representation of 'reality' in the earlier interface to the clarity of this new iteration, but think there is work to be done yet. If we've learnt nothing over the years, we have learnt that version 1.0 of anything new will not remain unmodified for long.

There's an interesting discussion comparing Apple and Microsoft interface design on the Fast Company site:
Malcolm Garrett
2013-09-29 12:34:39

Chill out, idiots. It's still a portable phone!
2013-09-30 09:11:08

I'm quite a fan of the new iOS. I like the colour palette and the functionality seems more intuitive than before. My only criticism would be that some of the design elements (eg. the camera) feel a bit "of the moment" in terms of design trends — something Apple's managed to stay away from up until now. But, at the end of the day, it's just a mobile phone operating system. I find it hard to get too passionate about.
James Windsor
2013-09-30 14:36:43

@Dom As the 'self-proclaimed pundit' I believe you are referring to, you will note if you read more closely that I do criticise iOS7.

I question the somewhat garish use of flat colour, the simplistic drawing of icons and, not least, the choice of Helvetica as the main font throughout. @Chris I agree that amongst other things this font is too fine for this purpose.

I do welcome the progression from the misplaced representation of 'reality' in the earlier interface to the clarity of this new iteration, but think there is work to be done yet. If we've learnt nothing over the years, we have learnt that version 1.0 of anything new will not remain unmodified for long.

There's an interesting discussion comparing Apple and Microsoft interface design on the Fast Company site:
Malcolm Garrett
2013-09-30 15:21:38

I don't have a smartphone, but if I did, I would have thought there was a good opportunity for some sort of after-market skinning in interfaces of choice. Apple could surely offer a range of different typographic themes to suit all comers. They could still keep the core theme.
David Marks
2013-09-30 15:55:42

Fair article with good observations by MG. One observation of my own is that although the calendar looks better I don't think it functions as well as the previous version.
2013-10-10 11:38:58

Tell us what you think

What happens with my feedback?

We no longer require you to register and have a password in order to comment, simply fill in the form below. All comments are moderated so you may experience a short delay before your comment appears. CR encourages comments to be short and to the point. As a general rule, they should not run longer than the original post. Comments should show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard.

Get the RSS Feed