iOS7 flat icons: evolution from unicolor to multicolor design
A good creative mind cannot afford to think the continuous chatter that flat design is water off a duck’s back. Even something so simplistic like flat design is continuously moving forward, and examples can be noted all around the web; even more now that the 3 monsters Microsoft, Google and Apple are using it. In this post, we will give some background about flat design evolution, and then we will go into the case of iOS7 icons, in which we are seeing the maximum exponents and, in a certain way, defenders of the widely known skeuomorphic design, who recently made a 180° twist.
A successful attempt of content over color; the Windows attempt
The Modern UI, Microsoft’s attempt to follow flat trends
The Modern UI (previously called Metro style) was certainly a hit when it came out for Windows Phone, and also were the icons they used. The windows design team followed a simple rule: content, not chrome. The recent boom of mobile devices leads to think in alternatives for small screens since the excess of shines and gradients do not look good on them.
Windows 8 Icons
Turns out it was a good idea and we all know about its passing through the Xbox360 and later, the Windows 8 OS.
Simpler but not colorless; the Google attempt
Great set of flat icons designed by IconShock
Google did not stay behind; they moved to a new style free of shines and gradients but not full of color. They pretty much showed us that they can lend the ideas of other companies and come up with something great. We mean, Google design is not really flat, not completely though. We definitely could notice a way simpler design, especially in the Google plus interface; however, you can still see gradients in some buttons. Back to the icons, which are a different story, there are no gradients, but an established and clean style is Google's bet.
Chrome flat icons designed by Google
“Black, white, and flat all over.” the iOS7 attempt
Flat style proposed by Apple
So Apple finally ended up getting aware of trends and so the design was announced as “Black, White and flat all over.” People use to say “if you can't beat them, join them,” and that is what one could think at first sight that Apple was thinking when creating the new interface, but that would not be the complete truth because Jony Ive needs to be considered more of a flat design than a skeuomorphic design fan. He has said that skeuomorphic designs often do not stand the test of time, and with his promotion to Senior Vice President of Design, we started to felt things were about to change. And they did
What is the bad thing in the iOS7 design?
iOS flat weather icon
Black, white and flat all over is not being an accurate description of the new iOS7; it is, in fact, very colorful. The new design seems promising, and people in general like the overall design of the mobiles OS, but not much time has passed and it has already left a sour taste in loyal skeuomorphism lovers, and also, most importantly, in graphic designers that are seeing some flaws on the icons. —What flaws?— You may ask; well, let's check some of the things that are being criticized in forums, articles and comments:
Faulty attempts of simpler symbolism: For example, the beautiful camera lens icon changed to depict a flatter but unfortunate insipid sort-of-old camera that, in our humble opinion, does not belong with the rest of the set since it's an obsolete representation of it, like using a floppy disk for the save option; and it's becoming one of the most disliked icons of the set by a lot of designers in forums out there. Also, the game center icon does not seem to be a proper metaphor and neither seems to be the Photos icon.
Use of gradients and blur with flat design: We don't say that is a bad idea. In fact, it might work. But as is well-known, it seems to be rather confusing and, in some ways, too hard for the eye (in the case of mixing blur with a very slim white typography) since the design was expected to be flat and simpler. Some funny parodies of apple concept design can be checked here.
There's not a defined style in some of the app icons: for instance, the style in some apps is a white icon over a colored background like the iTunes store, and in other ones you can see just too many colors; and going back to the game center icon, you can even notice that glossy, shiny style they are trying to leave behind.
Lack of space; the Jony Ive grid: The grid suggested by Jony Ive as the guide to follow to make all icons in the home screen harmonic is a tool that has been disdained by a lot of designers; being the main reason, the lack of space. The negative space is something that cannot be left apart since the balance between positive and negative space is what makes a good design useful and clear, and with this model icons seem to be just too big for its square, thus making it a frustrating design.
Is there a good thing in all this?
Good thing is that people usually tend to take only the good from things that seem to be bad. The missteps given by Apple in the creation of the new icons are a chance for designers to show their potential to come up with something that can be considered better. We definitely have to give Apple the merit because they are trying something new; they are experimenting, and giving the new results shown (even though this one could be an attempt full of flaws) maybe Apple is a pioneer trying to go towards a new era of design where flat design can coexist harmonically with gloss, shines, blurs and gradients. Who knows?
There are some alternatives already
Even though it has been said in more than one site that Apple is changing some of the icons, some designers out there are already showing their alternatives to solve some of these issues, including also, an alternative to the Johny Ive grid. In example, this collection of icons below was created by Rovane Durso and exposed in his Dribbble profile.
Some interesting design changes for iOS7 icons
The design of the iOS7 icons seems to be in some way the flat version of their old design, which would be understandable. There would be some people out there who would find it painful to get used to a full revamp on the interface. It is easy to criticize, but not so much to do something about it. That’s where we the designers enter. Don’t go away, our upcoming projects are focused into making beautiful iOS7 designs. Do you like the new iOS7 icons style? Drop a comment letting us know your thoughts in this entire hubbub generated around the iOS7 icons.
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