The future of design: Apple IOS flat user interface
Design has always been a big interest of mine, it’s amazing how one great design can change the style of thousands if not millions of other websites and applications. I am going to talk about Apple’s controversial move from it’s skeuomorphic design style to it’s “flat” design. Skeuomorphic design is when you make your design look like a physical object, often like the object the software is replacing. For example in iOS the notes application looks like a notebook, the voice recording application looks like a microphone etc. Some designs such as the calendar in iOS represent’s a leather bound calendar, which is something most iOS users would have never used in their life.
Flat design on the other hand is quite the opposite, flat design makes use of solid colours or subtle gradients which aim to take away all the “fluff” in the way of your content, so in other terms it aims to bring content to the forefront. What is interesting is flat design is being adopted by the three big players in mobile devices (Microsoft, Google and Apple) with Microsoft adopting the biggest flat UI, and Google with the least.
Flat UI often makes the assumption that the user is familiar with it’s input device (in this case the touch screen) and it often makes the assumption that the user now knows how to navigate the system/app. For example in iOS7 apple takes away a lot of the visual aids for a seamless design – such as removing the border from buttons.
In the past the user may not have known that these are input elements (as the buttons aren’t always as self explanatory or obvious as cancel and done). However users moving from iOS6/iOS5 are able to move and navigate iOS7 perfectly fine as most elements remain in the same or similar places as before. The problem with these assumptions is it can tarnish what the OS was so greatly praised about in the first place – allowing anyone, even the an elderly person who has never used a computer to be able to pickup an iOS device and instantly know how to use it. I do however believe that design does need to move on and removing the visual aids can save a lot of precious screen estate on your phone to allow for more content (the bit that actually matters to us users).
Some UI elements become more confusing with the new flat UI, for example the timer in the clock app, before the input element for choosing the sound, was pretty obvious and separate, but in iOS7 it is merged with the time picker, making it blend in and more difficult to navigate.
Flat UI like any other style of UI has it’s positives and negatives, and because Flat UI is so new in the mobile space, it will obviously improve as the design style improves. In iOS7 there are still many inconsistencies. For example the notes app and reminders app still remain textured and skeuomorphic. Some stock icons have gradients light to dark, while other go dark to light, some don’t have a gradient at all. Then there is the Game Centre icon which isn’t flat at all.
So where is the design going to go in the future?
Well design seems to go around in a circle, you have thin font faces and then your have thick font faces, you have Flat UI’s then you have Textured ones. So it could possibly just follow this loop of flipping between the different styles and maturing with each design phase. I however believe there will be a point where the designs will merge into a UI which takes the best elements from skeuomorphic UI, the best from flat UI to create websites and apps which are effortless to navigate and bring content to the forefront. I believe that designers will come up with increasingly clever ways to give content to it’s users, in recent years many websites have adopted parallax scrolling which is a great way of providing users with content, in the order you want it to be displayed without the need to link off to other pages. I also believe that animation will take a big part of how UI works – where elements input elements interact better with the user, and content makes itself more obvious.
Currently Microsoft and Apple have their homescreens which are filled with colour (too much colour) and the other apps are filled with white or black space. I believe that this will become more unified with less colour on the home screen, and bringing more colour into that apps themselves.
In conclusion I like the direction in which design is going, however I think it’s a long way before the Flat UI style is matured.