Apple Dictates the World’s Visual Design
Every time Apple redesigns their software, specifically iOS, the entire design industry landscape changes. Basically, everyone follows them.
This phenomenon actually makes a lot of sense. What’s confusing, though, is that Apple typically isn’t the first to create new design patterns or usability trends, and Apple isn’t necessarily the most capable leader when it comes to software design.
They are, however, leaders in many others ways, and their software design is better than most. That’s exactly why they set trends.
Image via Songquan Deng / Shutterstock
It Started With Me
I see this happen to me every time a major shift happens in iOS. It started on the day the iPhone was released in 2007. I was blown away by the device, the design, the usability, the touch screen, the gestures… it was all so new, so cool, and really unexpected.
I remember immediately applying the principles of their gestures and design patterns to my own trade, which was and is designing websites and web applications. I was literally so inspired, and I still believe that that day changed history and shaped every day that came after it. The way that everyone thought about design and user interactions was totally turned upside down.
Subsequent releases of new iOS versions and features evoked the same reaction. A lot of this has to do with Apple basing its design decisions on deep human principles, smart thinking and research. That means that when you get it (you see it after Apple’s done it), you realize that there are all kinds of ways to apply Apple’s thinking and usability to your own projects and ways of thinking about projects and users.
I Wasn’t Alone
Soon I noticed that others were taking the cue as well. When iOS first started innovating, it was long before responsive web design. In fact, it was largely the first time that full, beautiful websites were viewable on mobile phones. It makes sense, then, that when everyone started creating mobile versions of their websites, the obvious inspiration was Apple’s native apps.
It may be hard to remember, but the original native apps, before the App Store existed, were nowhere near what they are today. Still, they were like nothing anyone had seen previously.
So mobile websites, in the beginning of the “true” mobile web, looked a lot like Apple’s iOS apps. Frameworks started emerging, like jQuery Mobile and Sencha Touch, that featured simple “views” with back buttons in the upper left, nav bars across the bottom, bouncy scrolls and more. Forget loading new pages. We needed sliding and flipping transitions between views with no load time.
Briefly, and after Android was out, there was a push for “non Apple” mobile UIs, which translated basically to a platform agnostic, mobile-web-specific UI language. Even that looked and functioned an awful lot like Apple.
Then Came the App Store
Soon Apple opened up their App Store and created this whole new subset of the technology/development/design industry where anyone could create their own mobile apps. Here it really made sense to copy Apple’s interfaces and design styles, and this is probably what set the tone for the years to come.
Now, designers and UX people had good reason to base their decisions off of the functions that users were already used to. That’s usability 101. Especially because before the iPhone, there were no pre-existing user patterns for touch-based mobile apps.
The issue, if you want to call it that, is that now we have a whole slew of different use cases and usability patterns from all different mobile operating systems, mobile and responsive websites, and mobile applications. It seems, though, that everyone still wants to follow Apple.
I guess it’s safe…
The Flat Design Example
Recently, the most relevant example of how we’re all still being led by Apple is actually flat design.
Apple did not invent flat design, and in fact, you could argue that they don’t even practice true flat design. (I know there’s no formal definition of flat design to let us know they don’t… but they don’t.)
Regardless of its popularity pre-iOS 7, all the sudden, with the release of iOS 7, everything in the world went flat.
I don’t mean that the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter apps updated their designs to match the new iOS 7 flat interface and best practices. That did happen, though.
I mean that websites became flatter to match their mobile app companions. In a lot of cases, Android apps got the flat treatment as well. Taking things a step further, some very large companies even updated their logos! Yahoo, Google and Bing all released new, flatter logos right around the time Apple updated to iOS 7.
The fact that Apple wasn’t nearly the first company to implement flat design helps to reinforce my point. Flat design was very popular amongst designers and trendy tech or design-focused companies. It was written about, debated and defined. But it took Apple to let everyone know that “OK, it’s safe to do this now. We did it.”
Back to Me
The thing is, even after all these years, I was insanely inspired by watching the Apple keynote where iOS 7 was revealed. Especially when they showed the new photos app.
And it’s crazy, because I dislike the new design of the “select” inputs, I dislike how the back arrow interacts with its label, and I dislike some other minor choices.
But I love how they push our whole industry forward. I love how they thought “outside the box” and threw all previous assumptions out the window. I love how Jonny Ive was able to take his genius and spill it into the software side of the product.
For now, and probably for a while into the future, I and everyone else will continue to copy Apple, whether consciously or subconsciously, through Apple directly or through someone else who copied Apple originally. We’ll continue to have “aha” moments when Apple rethinks a common user interface element. For better or worse, we’ll continue to base our aesthetic decisions on Apple’s mobile phone interface.
And, really, that’s not such a bad thing.