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2 October 2013

iOS 7 : Making flat design mainstream

Hello readers,

As the majority of iPhone users have done in the last few weeks, I have taken the step to upgrading to iOS 7, Apple's latest rendition of its mobile user interface. My experience so far has generated mixed feelings towards this latest offering. Personally I feel it's a bit hit and miss. I can't help but feel this iteration of iOS offers more in style than substance, despite a few nice new features for iPhone users to enjoy. That being said most of these features have been enjoyed by Android users for a long time now.

Image courtesy of Google images

Having read some of the feedback on various forums, it seems that iOS7 has caused a real divide in the normally united opinions of the Apple fanbase. Many users complain that it's too simple, or that the functionality has changed too much for easy adaptation to the new design. Others say they love the way it looks and the features make it a more rounded user experience. Motion sickness issues from the interface and problems with iMessage have marked Apple's card somewhat, but for better or for worse, it has definitely got the digital world talking.

What has stood out the most is Apple's move towards flat design. Flat design first appeared as a popular design style during the Soviet era. In the same way as Swiss style design, flat design relies heavily on simplicity and a strong typographic style. Clean sans serif fonts and solid blocks of colour are king in flat design. 

Image courtesy of Google images

Apple are by no means alone in this venture. Microsoft, Ebay, Google and YouTube have all embraced this design trend. So what has caused this collective change? Many factors have been the catalyst for this transition, but there are a couple of things that stand out. 

Image courtesy of Google images

Information overload 
We live in a world where the screen in your pocket dominates all the others in your life. It wakes you up in the morning, checks the traffic, and tells you the best way to get to work. It lets you read your email during meetings, find a lunch spot, schedule a recording on your DVR, and read the day’s news before you doze off at night. With all of this information in a single place, it makes sense that the way this information is relayed back to the user  is easy to read, simple in design and intuitive in it's usability. 

Improving the User's experience
The three tech giants are moving toward flat design in their efforts to improve the overall user experience. Although flat design is not necessary the goal of any design project, it often ends up being the result. In the most simplistic terms, the more design elements you add, the busier the design will be. Gradients, shadows, patterns, and textures can bring a design to life, but too much of it can quickly clutter it up into a huge mess. Better user experience makes your users loyal and happy and increases the chance of your product succeeding.

It's time for a change
In a post Steve Jobs era Apple have a need to push forward to keep up with the times. iOS debuted in 2007 with the first iPhone, and it has changed relatively little since, visually speaking: applications shuffled around, some icon tweaking and polishing, an extra row on the iPad and iPhone 5, some nips and tucks here and there. iOS 7, by contrast, changes everything: it’s the vanguard of Apple’s decision to liquidate skeuomorphic design.

Is flat design the future?
It's impossible to say that this style of design is the future, but what is clear right now is that in a digital world where the focus is on the user's experience, this style looks like it is being adopted by increasing numbers of large technology brands. What is important to mention is that flat design is not the be all and end all in creating an effective smooth user experience, designers have been able to create user friendly interfaces for a long time, without drawing inspiration from this style.

What are your thoughts on Apple's iOS7? Do you the love or loathe the flat design trend?  We'd like to hear what you think.

Chris Cheshire
Brand and Experience Team

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