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New software design at Apple


A report from The Wall Street Journal seemingly confirmed what we already knew- with the ousting of Scott Forstall, a new era of collaboration has begun at Apple. It has been insinuated that Forstall was one of the reasons for the spike in skeuomorphic (design elements that mimic real world objects, such as leather seen on the Contacts app) design we saw on the iPad and OS X Lion. It would seem that Forstall became expendable and CEO Tim Cook forced him out. Apple’s longtime hardware design chief, Jony Ive, was put in charge of all design at Apple.

We had received indications that Ive was not a fan of the skeuomorphic trends in Apple’s software.  As a design student who respects Jony Ive and his opinions, that’s all I needed to hear to know that skeuomorphic design was on it’s way out. The company’s biggest proponent of it was gone, and the head of design didn’t like it. Rumors have since cropped up suggesting that iOS 7 will have a new, “flat” aesthetic look. This is likely the case, especially since we have evidence in the form of the newly updated Podcast app. Gone is the reel-to-reel tape deck lingering in the background, replaced with a user interface not unlike the one found in the music app during playback.

I will go a step further and suggest this new “flat” aesthetic will be featured, at least in part, in the new release of OS X due sometime this year. The hurried conversion from one design philosophy to another is the reason that we’ve heard nary a word about the new release of OS X that we were promised we would get annually. Defining a new aesthetic won’t be easy, and we all know, Apple likes to keep a lid on things until they are good and ready to announce them. I suspect we’ll get a taste at this year’s WWDC.

At first, I enjoyed skeuomorphism, if for no other reason than the novelty of it. But that wears off fast, and under the aesthetic you can find some questionable design decisions.

Most people interchange the word design with aesthetic. A design, or design philosophy is an overarching way in which things work. An aesthetic is often just a topcoat. Microsoft’s Windows 8 user interface is a new design. Skeuamorphic leather is a topcoat. Granted, skeuomorphism is meant to put the user at ease with the app they are using- to bring familiarity from the real world, into the digital one. This, in my mind, won’t work because they are fundamentally different. It can look like a real-world address book, but it will never function like one, so don’t bother to make it look like one and hamper the abilities of the software.

Like it or not, and for better or worse, it seems that Jony Ive is coming in to wipe away the faux Corinthian leather, stitching, and torn pages and replace it with something sleeker.

(image: Apple)



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