Apple’s iOS 7 and the changing medium of screen design

“As with many discussions on the web the debate around skeuomorphism and flat design has often missed the point on both sides,” Matthew Johnson writes for anandabits. “Much of the conversation has centered on the purely aesthetic or on localized issues of function such as affordances. However, underlying the shift in style is a change in the media of both web and mobile design.”

“This year at WWDC Apple revelead a significant redesign of iOS. Many designers pundits have pointed to iOS 7 in claiming that Apple is no longer a design leader, that they are now following the design trend established elsewhere,” Johnson writes. “Superficially there is some merit to this argument in that skeuomorphic ornamentation and light effects are largely absent but there are significant differences in both the aesthetics of iOS 7 and the motivation underlying these choices.”

Johnson writes, “We are designing for devices and screens that are much different than those of just a few years ago. This necessitates thinking differently about our designs which obviously results in different choices. It is essential for us as screen designers to understand how and why a new trend in style has emerged in response to a changing medium”

Read more (and don’t skip the footnotes) in the full article – recommended – here.


  1. iOS 7 looks gorgeous, and that is a massive and fundamental distinction from Android and all the rest. Apple’s difference is both in what they do, how they do it, and the level of care and attention they give to it. It is the quality of that design that will put it at the top.
    Android and all others look to Apple. Apple looks inward.

      1. I completely disagree. As a designer myself, I find it tastefully designed, more functional, and to be quite honest, a refreshing change from a look which is starting to get a bit stale after staring at it for more than six years.

        1. i disagree with you and I too, am a designer.
          Taste is an acquired thing. Design is ever changing. There is no one definitive solution. Simplicity is something every design strives for. Apple does not hold ownership to this ideal. Simplicity of use and understanding has always been the goal for Apple. Lets see if the changes really effect the learning curve for the better. Did Apple make it far more intuitive… we will see. iOS6 is an extremely simple system to use – underlying it is a very complex functionality for computing. Neither styles assist users anymore beneficially then the other.

          Other then a refreshing change… iOS7 does nothing more visually. However showcasing superior graphic and computing power; flat simple design is is the wrong choice . It dumbs downs the quality and prestigious nature Apple hopes to maintain. Mixing comic book glam with sharp cold steal — is a clash statement. It doesn’t go well together. Maybe with CarbonPlastics it will.

          1. I AGREE with you and I too, am a designer, albeit a grizzled old tavern fart these daze. My comments follow your quotes …

            “iOS6 is an extremely simple system to use – underlying it is a very complex functionality for computing. Neither styles assist users anymore beneficially then the other.”

            “Neither styles assist users anymore beneficially then the other.” So true, it BEARS REPEATING. For anyone to argue differently is utterly ridiculous.

            “Other then a refreshing change… iOS7 does nothing more visually.” Correctamundo! Nothing more visually? You mean, FAR LESS VISUALLY!

            “However showcasing superior graphic and computing power; flat simple design is is the wrong choice.”

            Correctamundo GRANDE!

            “It dumbs downs the quality and prestigious nature Apple hopes to maintain. Mixing comic book glam with sharp cold steal — is a clash statement. It doesn’t go well together.”

            Correct on SEVERAL points. Flat is dumb. Flat is uninspiring. Flat is for high school art class until they advance and develop their artistic skills. Flat is for fans of abstract art that abhor realistic leather stitching, felt, et al — anything real-life representational — its all about alternative reality, maaan. Flat done before just look to Bauhaus graphic design in the 1920s and fast forward to launch of USA TODAY graphics in the 1980s. Bottom line: Nothing new here, Apple, NOTHING.

            The second point, ” … It doesn’t go well together.” I have posted the same many times before. By my count, iOS7 breaks the most fundamental rule of graphic design by allowing a clash of styles: 4-6 different icon styles by my count. Dumbed down flat icons in the same collection is the only consistency.

            Icon choice at iOS upgrade time, classic or upgrade …

        2. To each his own. I personally had no problem with how iOS 7 looked. I think that the rich graphics and (most) real-life imitations of things were wonderful. I think that the added functionality coupled with the beauty of the current iOS would be simply stunning. How anyone could look at that bright, cartoonish looking mess and see beauty is simply beyond my ability to comprehend…

  2. Android and all others using Apple as guide-lines and comparing with their devices then beating Apple up. They’re waiting for Apple release its products first then copied-cat then bashing Apple. WTF!.

  3. Love the 3D effect the floating layers do, but that “flat” look on top sucks. Looks like someone put stickers on top.
    Let the icons be like they were, no need to change what was ahead of it’s time.

    1. the simulated effect of perspective — with the floating layers attempts to capture some reality… exactly eye candy useless for benefiting users experience – its exactly what skeuomorphism was said.

  4. Johnson,

    Point 1 – Changing medium of screen design: Aesthetics and Functionality in iOS7 haven’t really caused any shift at all. Other than the competition effecting Apple sales. Customers claiming iOS6 is old and boring. Yet, simplicity is seem on many levels and the once most worldly successful – easiest of use, highly functioning operating system; has simply come to age and appears old compared to the number of competitors. The wow factor and polish is gone. Nothing more.

    Point 2 – the Web: Webkit sets the standards for web on mobile devices. Apple led the industry with WebKit and these changes from day one. iOS7 has absolutely nothing to do with changes regarding how the web is used now a days – not aesthetically nor functionally – pertaining to a system level.

    Point 3 – Windows and Android: Technical restrains, hey, that would be something an engineer must have over seen and musty have missed. Yet, the opening paragraph says a retina screen is highly suitable for rich – detailed – graphics. Graphics that show case the technology to its best. This point is silly, and so is the reason for change in iOS. It would be like, buying a HDTV and watching standard analogue stations. If you have the capabilities and the quality why go with limitations. Flat graphics do not better a users experience then what so ever, Flat becomes a choice technically due to limitations. Limitations lead to inferior quality. Its backwards to Apples vision. “Retina displays are even better at displaying subtle textures, lighting and shadows. Those extra pixels go a long way in providing additional suspension of disbelief for realistic user interfaces”.

    “In the same respect, print design has limitations to work with. Most body copy in print design is black, because of hardware abilities — black is one of the four printing plates, so it can be reproduced at high quality, with sharp, fine lines needed for text.” Total bullshit here… a 100% Cyan hit on paper is just as sharp and crisp as Black is… Magenta also… black reads well it provides the most contrast. That is when it prints on white – paper. Naturally the highest contrast is the opposite colour.

    “Print design looks like print design, because there is no other choice.” well lets just understand this chose to limit yourself to a CMYK spectrum for one, two you failed to attempt to explain hexi-chrome colour systems, and stochastic dither screens of high index quality printing. Limitations mentioned to illustrated print has no choices… but its a false statement. Print looks like print mostly due to lithography – the most common print choice of CMYK and an economical one at that.

    “So, yes, the future of UI design will be like print design — marred by technical constraints, resulting in certain style choices being popular.”
    Oh crap… come on… what is being said is false. RGB has a greater gamut of light… iOS doesn’t run in CMYK mode. The web and iOS both are rgb. Print is not limiting how iOS works nor is the web dictating what is to be seen or how it is used – mobile or not. Style choices of the competitors are similar. The reason is simple, they do not use Retina screens and the products are inferior. Done.

    Point 4 – IOS7: This birth of a dynamic interface, hardly, its a basic trick, a simulation. Its again trying to be life like, a skeuomorphism thing to do. The effect has been seen basically in Android too. Where one tilts the device while looking at the photo gallery. Lets just understand here, physics are not being used to better ones experiences using iOS. It is not benefiting ease of use or improved understanding — it is eye candy, parlour tricks. Film choice in colous highly depends on which film is preferred. The warmth and vivid choice of Kodak or the cool and hard colours of Fuji Colour. Again choice not limitations. Both are backlit film – Apple may go soon with Igzo screens and perhaps those relate more to Apples future and need to flatten – finding backlit igzo best suits a simpler graphic.

    Point 5 – Conclusion: Form following function is not always the case. The shape of a phone initially was a handle housing microphone at one end and a speaker at the other. Ultra simplicity. A brick or thin tile with a video screen that is flat and uses multi-touch controls does not dictate shape nor function. The truth here is the system and function should say what shape the phone is. A flat block is not designed ergonomically to anyone head. And possible hold a device up top the head also – one day – may not be how we communicate to others. FaceTime and Skype are more suitable for bricks with videos screen we all interact with by touch. Holding these to our head suddenly limit the device on how it is used. Well the phonlet. Tablet-phones are larger and not intended to be held like phones.. but by modern video calling. Or a bluetooth head set connecting wirelessly to your device in its case. Heres to the future! Let it be a happy one.

  5. The music application is awful. In the iOS6 version lyrics blended perfectly with the background. Now a very “bad taste” white stick appears. This is a retro-evolution. Maybe J. Ive is a Hypercard saudosist.

  6. My first thought when I saw iOS7 was how similar it looks to Win8 – lots of white, simple text buttons, lots of space etc. I always thought Win8 looked child-like and in some ways iOS7 seems to be moving this way too. Of course iOS7 will perform and behave far better than anything coming out of Richmond but when I see an iOS7 screen up against an iOS6 and earlier layout I have to say I think the older designs look a little more functional (actual solid buttons to click on etc) – there is a danger in paring down an interface to the point of excess, it will be interesting to see where they go from here!

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