Why Apple’s iOS 7 redesign might not be good news for users

The interwebs is awash with rumours about a potential Jony Ive led redesign to feature in Apple’s iOS 7. It is probably fairly likely that this overhaul will feature at least a portion of the emerging design trend of flatter textures and UI elements which has fallen mainly out of Microsoft’s Metro design language.

But this is actually boring news. For me, for you, for users, for Apple.

iPhone GamecenterFrom a purely aesthetic and personal point of view I have to say I prefer this flatter design trend over some of the skeuomorphic elements present in iOS (A nice overview by Mike Redaelli from Web designer depot comparing the two) – but is Apple simply bowing to pressure to keep things ‘fresh’ rather than actually aiming to enhance the user experience?

Good visual design can certainly aid users in completing tasks. Removing unnecessary visual clutter and focussing on content (which flat design tends to aid) is always a good thing. I would even say Apple, being a design led company, should certainly be aiming to be on the cusp or even defining these emerging design trends.

But still it feels like a damp squib. iOS has always been a great mobile operating system for those new to technology and I don’t see iOS 7 being any better if all Apple are doing is removing a few leather stitched textures here and there. For some groups of users (particularly the older generation) some of these skeumorphic design features can aid their understanding of a UI. Whilst blackjack tables may not have much relevance for the younger generation, skeuomorphism can help older folk, or those with severe gambling problems understand what the app is about.

Skeuomorphism can help those older folk or those with severe gambling problems understand what the app is about.

Consumers are apparently growing ‘bored’ of iOS’s appearance, however this hasn’t stopped them buying iOS devices in their millions (over 40m Q4 2012). I would argue that those that are the most vocal about this supposed problem are the tech savvy among us, used to the latest gadgets and cutting edge technologies. I got news for you guys, it’s very easy to forget in this industry we work in that we are in the minority. The quickest way to remind yourself of this is run some user research, it always blows me away and brings me back to earth at the baseline technical ability of the ‘average’ user. A particular quote that comes to mind is one of the oldest user experience mantras in the book:

What users say and what they do are often completely different

Ultimately the problem with design refreshes purely for the point of making something old appear new is that they rarely leave any lasting satisfaction beyond an initial “oh that’s new” factor. Any design refresh has to support an enhanced experience in order for it to be time well spent.

So let’s keep our fingers crossed that Ive and Co spend a little more time on improving the user experience in iOS 7 as a whole, rather than just removing the felt from Game Center.

What are your thoughts on Flat or Skeuomorphic design? Does this redesign get you pumped? Let us know in the comments.

* Image courtesy Ben Atkin Vince Viloria

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