iOS 7 and Apps With Personality



Tweetbot shipped just over two years ago. In my review I wrote:

Tweetbot has more personality than any other Twitter client out there. Every single pixel has been hand crafted in order to build the most custom looking UI of any Twitter client I’ve seen. Moreover, the sounds, the animations, the actions — everything has been thought through with intent, care, and fun. It all adds up to create a Twitter Experience Extravaganza.

When Apple revealed its stark design changes in iOS 7, one of the things I first thought about was how 3rd-party developers would respond to the massive design changes. And one of the first apps that came to my mind was Tweetbot.

Comparing the current design aesthetic of Tweetbot to that of iOS 7, there’s more than just the contrast between the “light” design of the latter and the “heavy” design of the former. In iOS 7 most buttons have become just tappable text, whereas one of the most prevalent design elements in a Tapbots app is the custom button.

I’m using Tweetbot as an example here because it has a strong, customized design aesthetic all its own. An aesthetic that will need revisiting in order to fit in with iOS. But also, I’d hate to see Tapbots just slap on the iOS 7 skin and call it a day. Fortunately, that’s not going to happen.

Paul Haddad, during a sidewalk interview with Lex Friedman at WWDC, talked about if and how Tapbots plans to respond to the aesthetic changes in iOS 7:

I don’t think we have to match exactly what’s there, but we definitely have to take some of the cues they’re giving us and probably make some changes. […] I’m guessing there will be some [design elements] that take the iOS 7 look and some things that take our custom look.

Obviously this is an off-the-cuff conversation, and it’s still early since the iOS 7 beta was released. However, this morning Paul tweeted that, “if you are an iOS developer and don’t think iOS 7 is the biggest opportunity in years, you need to find a new job.”

For as long as Tapbots has been making apps, I’ve been a fan of their aesthetic and style. With the entire foundation of iOS changing this fall, I am very curious about what direction Tapbots will go with their app design and how their custom look will evolve and mature.

I’ve already spoken with a few developers who are planning to go “all in” with their apps in iOS 7 by releasing a major updates that closely align with the new aesthetic of iOS 7. And I think that’s good and right. There is a lot of great change in the new version of iOS and it won’t do any one any good if apps cling to their legacy design for the sake of arguing against where Apple is going.

But it’s also fair to say we don’t want every single app to mimic the iOS 7 look and feel without adding any personality and innovation.

Jared Sinclair, designer of Riposte, in an article, “Apps are content, too“:

Here is a quote from one of the iOS 7 marketing pages:

Conspicuous ornamentation has been stripped away. Unnecessary bars and buttons have been removed. And in taking away design elements that don’t add value, suddenly there’s greater focus on what matters most: your content.

The implication here is that third-party apps that pride themselves on tasteful toolbars and easy-to-recognize buttons don’t add value for the user, that the app itself isn’t content.

Bollocks.

User interfaces are as just as much a part of the experience of an app as the text, photos, and videos that it displays.

Agreed.

What makes an app great is the little things — the small details that take something normal and turn it into something extraordinary. I see iOS 7 as a blank canvas — an “un-design” if you will. The goal of a 3rd-party isn’t to copy the stock apps pixel for pixel (that wasn’t the goal for iOS 1-6, and it’s not the goal now). Rather this is Apple saying it’s time to re-imagine what mobile software should look and act like. Five-hundred million people are using iOS devices, and it’s time for the training wheels to come off.

And Tapbots, among others, are in an excellent position to set an example of custom design done right in iOS 7. They have the skill to take the designs they’ve built over the past years and merge them with the new foundation Apple has laid.

So yes, strip away conspicuous ornamentation, but don’t strip away feeling and personality and delight.