On Wednesday, Apple publicly released it’s new IOS 7 operating system for mobile and tablet devices and with it came one of the most significant (http://www.iphonehacks.com/2013/09/ios-7-preview.html) — and for some, controversial — design changes to the Apple Human Interface Guidelines (Apple’s strongly encouraged design principles that have driven apps and products on the platforms to be so uniformly designed) that has many major applications redesigning their interfaces from IOS 6 to IOS 7. It’s this heavy design guidance (or constraint, depending on which side of the fence you fall on) that has rooted Apple’s style and foundation in the history of mobile and tablet design.
Early on, Apple was a pioneer in digital skeuomorphism – the practice of making objects look like ‘real world’ objects. This can be observed in Apple’s old Notepad application designed with lines, texture, shredded paper edges and yellow background color, simulating a paper legal pad or the leather stitching details in the User Contacts application.
With early digital interfaces, using skeuomorphism can often help users unfamiliar with technologies or digital interfaces become more comfortable using apps by mimicking a ‘real world’ experiences they’re familiar with.
As digital literacy grows, moving away from this practice to a flat design becomes easier and a natural evolution of interface design. For some of our BBG audiences with lower digital literacy, and experience this could be good and bad news, but overall I think it’s positive. How familiar are people in rural Africa going to be with interfaces that mimic legal pads or leather-bound Day Planners? The jump to flat, cleaner and simpler interfaces might serve them better, despite having less experience navigating digital content.
With IOS 7 removing a lot of the beveling, textures and gradients, the interface becomes cleaner and more open. The design also appears incredibly more simple, but managing that simplicity with making a sophisticated, content- and feature-rich and usable user experiences requires a mastery of design.
Flat design also elevates content and its visual quality to a new level — a critically important factor for the BBG’s content producing entities — because all the design noise and textures are stripped away, having excellent, high-resolution, optimized images and video becomes increasingly important.
Patrick Keane on Venture Beat emphasized flat design’s importance for content and advertising:
“The shift from skeuomorphic to flat design is not purely aesthetic. Stripped of any ornamental clutter, the minimalistic design of iOS 7 elevates the content. The implication for advertisers is simple — if any aspect of an ad’s form or function is not integrated into the new interface, it will be a clear distraction from the user experience. Take the new Safari, for example. It’s buttons and bars stay hidden until you scroll to reveal them and ‘Reading List’ in Safari consolidates web articles into a feed that you can seamlessly scroll through.”
The curious thing about these changes are how many mobile and tablet operating systems are converging on a “flat” design paradigm. The approach was first brought to the modern mobile market by Windows 8 and their tiled navigation interface. Google’s Android has also embraced simplicity and flat design in their 4.0 and newer platforms. This design principle merging is good news for those of us producing multi-platform apps.
As we continue to build out the BBG mobile and tablet applications we’re preparing a redesign this Winter for larger device interfaces that will further embrace flat design principles and allow our international content to sing by showcasing our journalism in bigger, bolder and cleaner interfaces. Stay tuned for more.
Oh, and yes, we’ve upgraded our apps to support IOS 7 in the meantime.
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