Five Suboptimal iOS 7 UI Decisions

Creating a new visual UI language in only a few months might be difficult

Let’s assume for a moment we all agree that Apple had to completely drop the skeomorphic design language. That’s not my opinion, though, because I rather liked the peaceful co-existence between the super-clean and neutral Apple hardware and the friendly real-world metaphors in the software. In fact they not only co-existed well, but they build upon each other to create something special.

Anyway — a flat design it had to be, apparently. So I don’t want to criticise the big idea behind this move. Apple most certainly has some good points in here. Instead, I want to present five design decisions that might need a second thought.

1. Everything is (done with) type

It’s crazy to see that there are almost no layout elements in iOS 7 that are not solely build with letters. A few thin lines here and there, some simple left/right arrows, even the toolbar icons look like single glyphs from a light font family. There are no colored surfaces, very few buttons, no gradients. Literally over 90% of the screen estate (in most default apps) is pure typography. In design school, this would be an interesting task for a student project: create a touch UI concept and don’t use any “non-letter” elements. In reality the usability of an interface can be enhanced dramatically when you are using helper elements like visible buttons, knobs and switches. The existence of “on/off” switches is a small hint that Apple might bring back some subtle skeumorphism in future versions of iOS.

2. Neue Helvetiva as the only typeface

Experienced typographers and typeface designers (like Erik Spiekermann) never get tired of preaching that Neue Helvetica — especially in light and ultralight — might look gorgeous on a Retina display, but is in fact hard to read. Its tightly locked glyph forms don’t please our eyes when we take a closer look. You wouldn’t set a book or a newspaper or a magazine with Helvetica as body text font. It surely was the most uninspired choice you could imagine. Look at what third parties can do with a fresh look on today’s fonts:

Vesper gets screen typography right:

This screenshot pretty much sums it all up. Note the vertical spacing above the two main buttons! The buttons are mathematically aligned to the grid, but need more top space visually.

3. Thoughtlessly sticking to the grid

Grids always seem magic. Like you couldn’t make any wrong design decisions once you have set up a perfectly laid-out grid that solves every problem for you. Placing elements on the screen will never demand your thinking any more. Wrong! Grids are never perfect for all situations at once. They demand a lot of thinking! And if you have to decide whether you should a) stick to the grid or b) place the element where it just looks better, you must head for “looks better”.

4. Ugly colors through semi-transparency and blur

There is this concept in iOS where the screen contains several UI layers that are overlapping each other on the z-axis. That’s fine with me. However, if you have semi-transparency with white and black boxes, and you apply a heavy blur on most of those semi-transparent elements, it will almost mandatorily result in some really ugly colors. This is the reason I recommend everybody to set their iOS 7 background picture to pure black (or pure white). I tried to use the official green “iPhone 5c background”, which is made up of really bright and lively shades of green. In the screenshot above you can see what iOS 7 does to that friendly color.

5. Ugly colors by choice

It doesn’t happen solely by accident. The official color palette of iOS 7 contains some truly questionable candidates, which reminds me on cheap plastic toys that were exposed to the sun for too long. Look at that green and red! These two colors’ main task is to look like green and red simply must look like, on a every plain telephone or similar device. It’s not about being original here. They had a chance for being original while there were discussing font options. They weren’t. So why being original with the re-definition of more-or-less standardized colors? Because it’s just so quick and easy to shift the color hue a little bit?

Now what?

There are lots more little sloppinesses in iOS 7 . It’s only a few days old, that’s alright. But my five points above are not very likely to significantly change within the next months, which makes me sad. Although I appreciate the ruthlessness of Apple’s visual redesign of iOS 7 — they really rushed things a bit. They could have waited a few more months before presenting a whole new design language, taking much more care of the details.

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