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Moving towards a typographic user interface

There’s a lot of noise about the iOS7 UI, unsurprisingly. Some nuts are screaming about betrayal, and kill the fanboys; also, unsurprisingly. For me, some things I like, some I don’t – some of the icons look too stripped back, the font grates on me; but that’s because similar ultra light fonts have already been heavily used by designers who have put it within clunky user interfaces.

It is true that we can now afford to drop the heavy hints about functionality, at least for more experienced users, and switching pseudo 3D for colour hints and creating a general air of lightness are sensible moves. And the leather and baize had to go.

The biggest problem for developers with the changing resolutions of iOS, and the insistence on using pixels over points, has been the need to create graphical assets in vector format, and constantly pump out different pixel resolutions every few months. Creating good, 3D icons is hard work, and places far too much emphasis on the least important part of usability – graphic design. Hence the rise of the clunky, unintuitive but very pretty user interfaces. Apple have contributed plenty to this problem themselves, with the way the Apple Design Awards have rewarded pretty and glitz over smooth operation.

Back to the point.

With iOS7, I can see myself building apps with zero bitmap images. Careful, light, font choices (not always Helvetica Neue Ultra Light, please!), a light colour scheme, off-white backdrops (no textures), colour hinting instead of buttons, and icon fonts when appropriate. Everything done within the scope of the unicode character set.

An app needs to have a colour, which will be used for all tappable areas. When disabled, controls go to a lighter grey (or pastel). Light grey dividers separate groupings of information.

The biggest area of catch up is going to be gestures. Gestural controls have to be reviewed and made consistent with whatever Apple have done in iOS7, and that’s not something we can easily get from screenshots and demos. The beta is going to change before release, far more than earlier versions. I wonder how the iPad version is going to behave, and how different it will really be from the iPhone build?


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