The new iOS 7 operating system is a big departure from the current iOS 6, and it has sparked a big debate in the design community. While many hate it, there are some who think it was inevitable and opens up new vistas.


My only exposure to the new iOS 7 has been through what was presented on stage and through screenshots. I don’t really have and won’t really have an opinion until I have actually played around with it. However, I have been amazed by the reaction, especially from the design community, the majority of them being critical of the new flat-design that replaces the older, more literal and texture-heavy design of iOS. Intrigued, I asked the question to my Twitter community. Here are some of the responses.

Tom Coates, co-founder of Product Club, who in a past life worked at BBC and Yahoo’s Brickhouse, wrote back on Twitter in a string of tweets:

At least in part because it looks so much like wireframes with placeholders for things. Bit like a webpage with Times New Roman….It’s cramped in places, childish and garish in others, icons blend in with the background. And some of the design fetishes it has are as egregious if not worse than ios6 — frosted glass, fake depth, sliders with shadows. There are many good things about it too. Don’t get me wrong. App switcher is nice, etc. Interaction wise it looks and feels solid.

But on the other side of the coin are those who actually appreciate the new look.


Mike Monteiro (of Mule Design) wrote in a Twitter DM (direct message):

It’s a breath of fresh air. Where was Apple going with the current crap? This opens up all manner of possibilities. I’m excited because it’s new. And fresh. The Forstall crap went to its logical conclusion. Any design system that can no longer be extended is death. The new stuff is a fresh start. Eventually it’ll die too. But right now I’m excited about how it can grow and be extended. It’s not perfect. But, as a designer, that excites me. As a consumer? I dunno.

Craig Mod, who is one my favorite design and content-focused thinkers, wrote:

iOS7 shows us that we’re at a point where design of digital device interfaces simply cannot be accurately assessed from afar. These are living things — systems. Where the physics, the parallax, the subtlety of the movements are all part of the ‘design’ and surface design is just a rather boring tip of an otherwise very deep iceberg. Until we live with the new OS for days, it’s hard to say how successful the new design is or isn’t. What was outlined today looks like a very rational base on which to extend the OS — somewhat timeless, far more timeless than what we had before. The only truly red flags I saw (aside from bad iconography which is trivial to fix) were the decisions around translucency. I’ve never seen an instance where translucency brings clarity, not muddle, to an interface. And from what we’ve seen so far, it looks like it falls on the muddle side in iOS7, too.

Justin Rhoades, a Portland-based designer, said:

I think the design had to be reset so that newer interaction models could surface. More gestures, more animations. They added a physics engine to the SDK. It’s like a pendulum swinging from obvious visual affordances to engaging kinetic ones. The parallax effect, the physics of the messages bubbles and I’m sure many other ‘kinetic’ behaviors are new to devs in iOS7. Apple wants apps to use more motion and less visual design.

There is a furious debate going on over at Quora, where someone asked the question: is iOS7 an improvement? You can either check that out, or take a moment and share your thoughts regarding the new iOS 7 in the comments.

iPhone5iOS7_PRINTWe’ll be digging into experience design at our annual RoadMap conference in San Francisco in November. Tickets will go on sale later this Summer, and you can sign up here to get first access to them.

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  1. MobileAberdeen Monday, June 10, 2013

    Om, would love thoughts on my blog last week anticipating today’s announcements, “Software People Love — is UXD the Next Arms Race?” http://bit.ly/UXDarmsrace

  2. John Proffitt Monday, June 10, 2013

    THE BAD:

    * Way too much transparency as both gimmick and method for showing “place” within the multi-layer interaction system. Windows 7’s “Aero” interface had a lot of transparency, too, but it only created visual headaches, not clarity. Note that Windows 8 drops almost all transparency in order to create clarity. iOS is headed in the wrong direction here. But no wonder — a hardware designer probably wouldn’t realize this (yet). Hell, I’m having trouble easily reading stuff on the static screen shots. How bad will this be on a real screen in real lighting situations?

    * Too-subtle color gradations in icon designs. If you want to go “flatter” just go flat, a la Windows 8 / Windows Phone. To put in just a mild touch of color gradient causes you to stare too much, looking for the gradient. The colors are also weird — they’re not strongly saturated and many are non-primary unnatural colors.

    * Typefaces and icon drawing lines are too thin and will wash out too easily on the screen. Yes, it’s “sharp” because it’s thin, but that doesn’t mean it imparts meaning quickly. Consider the Safari icon with all the teeny-tiny compass tickmarks. More tickmarks in the icon does not offer more information or context — it just proves you can make thinner lines because of the Retina display capacity. A smoother thick line would actually show off the Retina display better than super-thin lines, because the super-thin lines will break into pixels easier.

    * All told, with the thin lines and thin text and odd colors with barely-there gradients, the icons are not “iconic” enough. I don’t want skeumorphism, and Apple need not copy Windows Phone, but I also don’t want an overly-intellectualized design.

    * Despite all the “bad” comments above, the old skeumorphism is utterly wiped away and Apple now has a clean slate. Even if they screw up version 1 of the new look, they’ve got time to fix it. No doubt tons of designers will offer “suggestions” that may very well be followed in later revisions.

    * Overall shift toward typography as a form of iconography. This is the same thing Windows Phone has done and the “Metro” design of Windows 8 did. Good typography is beautiful and paired with white spaces it can create meaning and function without excessive pictorial iconography. Me likey.

    * The in-app designs of interaction, motion, and graphics are remarkably cleaner and more functional than the old apps. Hooray for the design team in these areas.

    * As Gruber pointed out, they now have a design framework of layers that clarifies position within the overall system. Agreed, and thank God they cleaned that up.

    I’ll use iOS 7 immediately and I will *mostly* like it — I’ll love it in the apps, hate it on the home screens. Meanwhile I will look longingly at the classic icons over on Android until Apple (hopefully) relents and fixes their home screen icons.

    1. Thanks @john proffitt your feedback is packed with thought provoking comment(s)

      1. batmanofzurenarh Om Malik Tuesday, June 11, 2013

        Not to take things off topic, but I wonder why nobody thought like this when Windows 8 came out 0_o …… not taking sides here but it was microsoft’s first release of their redesigned interface much like apple, yet people don’t want to give it time to iron out. people nowadays need to be patient with designers and developers as software and interfaces get better (usually) as time goes on and things get ironed out.

        1. One has an established base of users/customers that have already bought into the ecosystem. iOS 1 was complete when shipped. Windows 8 had to be significantly better, not just competing, to get switchers or to overcome that momentum.

  3. Almost anything is better than the old look,that one was so tired. The bright and vivid colors might be a bit too much but i dislike black backgrouds (Android and WP do use black a lot) so there is at least that.
    The new OS should look good with plastic casing phones but not so sure it looks decent on ipads and doesn’t really fit current hardware
    That rainbow all the time kinda makes you dizzy. Maybe they target 12y olds,maybe they tone it down,we’ll see.

    1. Good point about the iPad — we haven’t yet seen what it looks like there yet. That’s a harder design target because there’s the Mini — with a low-res yet smaller screen, and the large 10″ model with the high-res screen. This new design approach with super-thin lines everywhere will probably “break” on the Mini.

  4. Andy Johnson Monday, June 10, 2013

    First impression was WTH this it’s not Apple.

    Maybe the functionality is near to he same behavior we already know, but it’s a mess of colors and graphics, and I have the same feeling of an Android system that are becoming more usable each new version.

    Seems to me that the MS is the “best first looking” GUI, even if I never used it, so the UX is still unknown.

    What I understood reading about this graphics revision, was flatting and giving more coherence to the applications simplifying the “skeuomorphism”, not to the launcher of the icons of them.

  5. markstewartdotnet Tuesday, June 11, 2013

    I like the changes, except for the some of the individual icon designs. I hope they change before release, because that is the kind of thing that Apple tends to move slowly on.

    Based on the Jony Ive video they really worked hard on creating a system of design rules around the iconography, but I think they stuck to much to their rules and not enough to the simple observation of whether an icon was actually striking/pretty/functional enough.

  6. Nicholas Paredes Tuesday, June 11, 2013

    What I like is that the OS sets the stage for a clean, crisp design guideline which incorporates a more layered interaction model. The icons and such also have a detail to them that will be revised and improved up to launch, rest assured.

    Designing apps requires that the behaviors are interacted with rather than viewed. It is not possible to convey most of what was shown without an app in hand. My team delivers prototypes as documentation for this very reason. Only in development can we even begin to adjust and refine the behaviors.

  7. When you put the new iOS interface up against stock Android the other Android variants, they all look stale now.

  8. First off I love the now look of iOS 7. It’s a refreshing change. I really like the parallax and can’t wait to see it work in person. I also like the new use of white space and the color pallet. Of all the iOS releases in the past I think this is the one that I am most looking forward to installing.

    What I find the most amusing it how everyone seemed to have complained that Apple needs to change iOS in a big way before WWDC. Now that Apple has, it’s nothing but nitpicking on something that has not even been released yet.

    I guess there will always be those who no matter what a company does, and I’m not just talking about Apple, they will always think they know better. Well I say if you can come up with a better idea then by all means have at it. Last time I checked Apple seems to have no problems selling any of it’s products. Even at a hight price point then their competition.

  9. I think the design hate largely comes from the fact that this look is not at all a Silicon Valley feel. There’s no remnant of video game tech look.

    This is very much East Coast: Think “New York Glamour”, classic 1950s Park Avenue, Audrey Hepburn, even Mad Men, etc.

    I think designers are ultimately gonna have a lot of fun with this, but it needs a practiced hand to keep it from becoming a cartoon.

  10. The interface just looks like the negative of a photograph. I’m already imagining myself having an eyestrain everytime I use my phone. The “new” features also actually aren’t new at all. Those have been present on other OS’s for a lot of time.
    I really hope they make a MAJOR revision of iOS 7 before its release this fall, including its color palette. I think it will also be hard to read from the screen in direct sunlight because of the extremely light colors and thin characters.

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