How the Design of iOS 7 Evokes Such Strong Feelings

iOS 7 dramatically changes the look and feel compared to iOS 6. At first, we're not quite sure about our feelings. However, in time, important design elements surface in our consciousness. It's a fascinating journey.


When I look at iOS 7, it generates very strong, positive feelings. The strongest feeling I get is that of maturity. iOS 7 looks to me as if it were designed by a professional who is invoking design principles in order to achieve beter usability.

And, of course, it has been. By Jonathan Ive. His taste and his experience are legendary.

Yesterday, I started wondering about my personal reaction. What was I seeing? How does iOS 7 succeed in creating that sense of design maturity?

The first thing I thought of was how kids see the world. While I'm not an expert in this area, I do recognize that there are certain mental growth patterns for kids. A youngster in 3rd grade will typically interpret and draw a cruise ship like this.

As youngsters grow older, they develop a more refined set of principles that shape how they express themselves in art. An older student may create something like this.

That growth in the ability to interpret reality is what I think of when I see a mature design. This is a recurrent theme in the development, over time, of our GUIs thanks to better graphics hardware. Of course, maturity of design shouldn't be confused with needless mimicking of reality. That's skeuomorphism, something iOS 7 leaves behind.

The other thing I think of is artistic and graphic design principles. Some that come to mind are:

  • Symbology
  • Minimalism
  • Ornamentation
  • Typography
  • Skeuomorphism
  • Geometry: balance and scale
  • Use of color
  • Gradations, texture and translucency

When these principles are invoked to develop an effective GUI, the user can sense it. There's a mystical feeling that: "I like it, but I don't know why."

For example, now that we all know how to use iOS, certain symbols no longer have to be ornate and suggestive. We get that the    <   symbol means to go back. We don't need, for example, an ornamental arrow to suggest an action.

Here's another example. Think of the rule of thirds in photography. Photographers use this rule to create more pleasing, sophisticated images while amateurs produce vacation photos that look, well, amateurish.

In the end, I think my affection for the look and feel of iOS 7 derives from how all the design elements work together to arrive at something that feels more elegant and mature. Polished. Sophisticated.

Why Doesn't Everyone Love iOS 7?

My feeling is that several things get in the way, at first, of the appreciation of iOS 7. There's the use of color. I think many users tend to over react to how color is used because it's the most obvious, first thing to see. The color forms the shapes and patterns that our eyes see as icons and words. If the colors are off putting, then it builds a psychological wall that hinders the user's ability to accept the new design.

As a result, it's all too easy to gloss over the design elements and principles I described above. However, in time, they make themselves more apparent, perhaps even dominate. Eventually, there's a turnaround, and the response is, "Hey, this really is cool."

But it takes time.

Another problem may just be the natural resistance to change. There's an ever so slight mental adjustment needed to embrace something that shifts our appreciation for an interface. Perhaps it's an enthusiasm for -- or dread of -- the future.  If that resistance is strong, the design benefits will be overlooked.

Making the Transition

If you're considering the move to iOS 7, and you should, these are some things to consider. The list of security fixes to iOS 7 is impressive, and so holding back is risky business. My advice is to upgrade and withhold judgment. Let the interface grow on you. Let those intangibles seep into your psyche, and it won't be long before you'll realize you could never go back to iOS 6.


Cruise ships (1,2) and arrow via Shutterstock