Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/50 sec, f/5, ISO 110 — map & image data — nearby photos
Simple, elegant design is timeless
(the Seifuso Villa (清風荘), Kyoto Japan)
|—|| My friends' and family's reaction to
latest interface for its phones and tablets.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is perhaps most true when a well-established convention undergoes a radical change. Not only is it then judged on its merits, but also by how it differs to what came before.
The user-interface (UI) design of iOS 7 seems to be of the radical variety. Not quite as radical as the initial iPhone was to the cell-phone world at the time, but also not as universally lauded. A lot of people really hate iOS 7.
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/800 sec, f/1.4, ISO 100 — map & image data — nearby photos
the geiko and her patron walked into what had been a clear shot of the temple
at the Kurodani Temple (金戒光明寺), Kyoto Japan
(Except the first, the photos on this page have nothing to do with the text; they're just random photos I've taken recently.)
Until recently I'd never actually used iOS 7, but from seeing it in news and advertisements over the last few months, I knew I didn't like the new look. The same aesthetic that I like so much about Apple hardware — a clean, ultra minimal, uncluttered look — seems to me in the software of iOS 7 to be flat, dead, lifeless. Soulless. It looks like Microsoft designed it. It would fit right in with the new Windows® logo.
To be clear, the look may not be my cup of tea, but that certainly doesn't mean it's a bad design, it's just one that I don't personally care for.
However, I'll go ahead and say that for reasons I'll describe below, iOS 7's design is bad.
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/200 sec, f/4.5, ISO 1000 — map & image data — nearby photos
“Vehicles pass even at night”
at the Saginomori Shrine (鷺森神社), Kyoto Japan
Having had the chance to actually play with iOS 7 recently while setting up a new phone for my wife, I was shocked that Apple could introduce such gimmickry at the expense of function.
The visual change in iOS 7 that got the most press is the dropping of many of the gratuitous skeuomorphs, such as the “stitched leather” decoration of the calendar app. Some skeuomorphs make a lot of sense, tapping into the accumulated experience users have developed in life so that basic things don't have to be learned from scratch. That's why interactive buttons in computer applications, for example, have long looked like real-world buttons: the look instantly explains what kind of control it is and how to interact with it. Others are just cutesy design embellishments, and Apple has gotten rid of most of those now.
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 42mm — 1/100 sec, f/2.8, ISO 5600 — map & image data — nearby photos
to enter an evening lightup event
at the Chion'in Temple (知恩院), Kyoto Japan
Another iOS 7 visual change that got a lot of press was the “simplifying” of the look. Someone who likes the new look might describe it as “clean” and “uncluttered”. Someone who doesn't might say “uninspired”, “monotonous”, “flat”, and “dull”. (An engineer would say “vectorizable”, but that's just a back-end implementation optimization.)
But these design decisions are mostly a matter of taste and not of “good” or “bad” design. Personally I find the new app icons to be a bit too visually indistinct to recognize as easily as the old ones, therefore requiring more conscious brain power to recognize. This is not a good thing, but perhaps time and experience will remedy that.
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/200 sec, f/1.4, ISO 100 — map & image data — nearby photos
at the Sento Imperial Palace (仙洞御所), Kyoto Japan
The quantitatively worst aspect of iOS 7's design that I've noticed is the incessant use of transparency for zero practically-useful effect. It's a visual gimmick that can be done now because the hardware has enough horsepower to support it, but “because we can” has never been a good design principle. There are times where transparency in one window (allowing you to see what's both in it and behind it at the same time) is useful, but I didn't notice such an instance on iOS 7's: every time transparency was used, the result was a less-clear UI.
Here's an example from Apple's own marketing:
What leaks from behind is the field of app icons and the background image behind them. There is absolutely no benefit to seeing that information at this point in the user's interaction, so at best it can be “not a distraction”, but at least to me the blobs of color are a horrible distraction, and the text is more difficult to read where the blobs are bright white. And this is the example they chose for product marketing... it could be much, much worse, depending on what happens to be in use for the icon-screen background.
In other areas of iOS 7, the transparency had different levels of impact, but in every case I noticed, it was a detriment. Transparency seems to be to iOS 7 as a curved screen is to a cell phone: worse than before.
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/50 sec, f/11, ISO 1800 — map & image data — nearby photos
at the Seiryoji Temple (清涼時), Kyoto Japan
Another bad design chose of iOS 7 is that in its drive to remove as many design elements as possible (“more clean, less cluttered!”), important visual clues that helped direct the eye were removed, such as visual clues to isolate individual items in a list. Lists of friends in the Find my Friends app used to be clear and obvious, now became jumbled masses of pixels that one must spend neurons on to decipher.
Feature wise, the theme of iOS 7 seems “more features; harder to discover”. Discoverability is normally a big part of interface design... great features mean nothing if users don't even notice that they're available.
Prior to iOS 7, one could access the whole-device search feature by moving to the zeroth screen of app icons, advertised by the standard “search” magnifying-glass icon at the left of the line of dots that represent each screen of app icons. Even if you somehow missed the search icon, in normal use of the device you'd sometimes overrun the home page while swiping around and quickly learn how to get to the search screen.
Now in iOS 7, the search screen simply seems to be gone, at least until you get frustrated enough to do a web search to learn where it went. Once you learn it, it's quite useful, but completely non-intuitive and hidden until you do.
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/2500 sec, f/1.4, ISO 100 — map & image data — nearby photos
at the Nishi Hongwanji Temple (西本願寺), Kyoto Japan
It used to be before iOS 7 that you could get to the “notification center” (list of alerts like new messages and email) by swiping from the top of the screen down. This wasn't easily discovered unless your finger happened to bump the top area of the screen, in which case a skeuomorphic set of “grip ridges” would show up letting you know that there was something to pull down. It's worse in iOS 7 in that what you get when you swipe down like that depends on where you start. (If you have iOS 7, give it a try: swipe down from the very top, and from some place that's not the top. Also, for a great feature, try swiping from the bottom of the screen.)
Another gimmicky bend to iOS 7 is the use of meaningless “because we can” animation. Many animations are actually useful, such as the “disappearing genie” effect in OS X when you hide a window, because it shows you where the window has gone, which in turn teaches you how to get it back. The animations in iOS 7 that I noticed are not of that variety: they add no information, merely frustration.
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/100 sec, f/9, ISO 100 — map & image data — nearby photos
at the Shugakuin Imperial Villa (修学院離宮), Kyoto Japan
“Change” is neither necessarily good nor bad... only the result should really matter. I only suggest that if you're going to change something well established, be sure to have a good reason. It seems to me that many of the UI changes to iOS were not done for a good reason.
(I should point out that for the most part I, like the iOS 7 team, am bad at design... heck, just look at my blog's visual design. But you don't have to be an opera singer to recognize when someone else can't carry a tune.)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/200 sec, f/1.4, ISO 2200 — map & image data — nearby photos
my friend Kataoka-san enjoying his teeny tiny baby-cup of espresso
at Restaurant La Verveine, Kyoto Japan