There’s been a lot of talk in the last few weeks about ‘flat design’ and how Apple will be reinventing iOS at WWDC using the principles of this idea. Yesterday we got the clearest look at where iOS 7 could be heading, when Apple released its WWDC app. The app is designed for those attending the conference, with maps and information for getting to the right workshops at the right time, but it’s the design of the app that’s really got people talking.
The icon is the first clue at to what is coming – the simple purple background with a plain white Apple logo may well give us a glimpse at what we can expect from iOS 7 when it’s announced in just under a week. The app, too, is much simpler, using fewer shadows and a basic colour palette. However, the app icon, and the app itself, don’t use totally flat design.
Lots of blogs and new sites have been discussing flat design, and how Apple will be using it in the new version of iOS after using skeuomorphic design from iOS 1. However, not everyone seems to understand exactly what flat design actually is; if they did, they would know that iOS 7 simply wouldn’t work with it.
Flat and skeuomorphic aren’t polar opposites
Flat design uses absolutely no gradients, shadows, bevels or other tools that add depth, instead utilising simple blocks of colour with solid edges and clean icons and text. It is not – and this is important – the opposite of skeuomorphic design, which imitates real-life object in material, shape and functionality. Instead, it is a simplified interface; for a more detailed look at what flat design actually is and isn’t, check out Carrie Cousins’ post on Designmodo. It’s also worth reading Paula Borowska’s piece on skeuomorphism on the same site.
Apple is very unlikely to go completely flat with its design; the WWDC app icon you see above is not truly ‘flat’ as it still includes a slight gradient. And it would be difficult for the text on the iPhone’s home screen to be read if there was no shadow behind it on a light background.
Instead, Apple will go for an ‘almost flat’ design. iOS 7 will drop all of its skeuomorphic elements, including the green felt backing to Game Center and the faux-leather and paper appearance of the Calendar app, but it will still maintain gradients, shadows and bezels. Importantly, these effects make interfaces easier to understand by users who want their iPhone interface to at least partly mimic real life.
This has been the trend with other apps recently, too. Mailbox, Google Search and Clear all use much simpler interfaces with solid colours and basic icons, but none can be described as truly flat as they all use gradients, layers or shadows to create an idea of depth. Is this a bad thing? Of course not – they’re among the easiest-to-use apps available, and if Apple takes inspiration from them it can only be a good thing.
Until WWDC kicks off next Monday, it’s hard to say exactly what we should expect from iOS 7, but one thing you can be sure of is that Apple won’t go for a completely flat design. Jony Ive will almost certainly flatten elements of the UI and simplify the interface by removing the skeuomorphic elements such as the Notes app’s yellow lined paper, but he won’t be getting rid of every gradient, shadow and bezel just yet. And that’s a good thing.