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Why iOS 7's design is bold but flawed

Christa Mrgan | July 2, 2013
iOS 7's new design has engendered plenty of both praise and criticism. While some of the choices have designer Christa Mrgan concerned, she's also excited by the overall direction.

Armchair art direction
The static screenshots we all dissected on day one actually do iOS 7 a disservice, as they cause the focus to rest on elements in a frozen state, when the beauty of this new direction lies in its depth and motion. That said, professional and amateur critics alike have voiced some valid concerns. While design is often subjective, many of problems that have been noted with iOS 7 are ones that already have solutions, which is why they feel like missteps here.

The use of Helvetica Ultralight as the system font is a mistake. I can say this more confidently than my other gripes, as I have my own 20/15 vision and the opinion of revered typography expert Erik Spiekermann to back me up on it. He calls the choice a "youthful folly," saying that in large swaths at 13-point, the text looks like a lovely, smooth carpet—and is also completely unreadable. While iOS does let users adjust font sizes throughout the system, it may be a bad sign if many or most people choose to increase them by default.

Jony Ive's icon grid is also "wrong," in that the glyphs within the icons just don't look harmoniously balanced. Panic designer Neven Mrgan has a great post on this (full disclosure: he's my husband and a ridiculously attractive dude, though I'd agree with him on this regardless). Upon viewing a static image of the home screen after watching the WWDC keynote, I had a visceral reaction to many of the icons, and I'm still hoping that they'll change before the final version of iOS 7 is released.

The final major problem I see is with the general lack of emphasis and differentiation between choices. Action sheets in particular feel too austere to me in their current form; with button borders gone and the only indication of the "preferred" choice being ever-so-slightly bolder text, I worry about user confusion. It's impossible to tell at a glance what the least destructive option is, and sometimes it's hard to tell what's content and what's UI.

For every nit I pick, though, I have an exuberant exaltation. This is a major overhaul of an established operating system, and it happened in seven months. It's an incredible step in what I see as a very cool direction.

Apple kills its darlings
Apple is a master of reinvention, and this stripping away of artifice in favor of dimension and liveliness is the kind of bold move the company was overdue to make. It's the nature of Apple, and the nature of creative work in general: When something stops working or grows stale, it has to go. Sentimentality doesn't make for good design.


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