Beyond Flat: Jony Ive’s New Icons are a Step in an Entirely New Direction for Software Design

iOS 7

The 2013 WWDC keynote finally happened yesterday and, along with OS X 10.9 Mavericks and the new MacBook Air, Tim Cook and company introduced the latest iteration of Apple’s mobile operating system–iOS 7. There has been an infinite amount of praise around the new features of the OS–Control Center, new spotlight, full multitasking, the list goes on and on–but there’s one thing that seemingly no one can agree on: the icons.

I’m not a designer and therefore I will not be sharing with you my stance on whether or not the icons are good design. I could, but my opinion would hold quite literally zero weight. What I can share, though, is something I stumbled on that might explain why the icons are the way they are–besides the obvious fact that Jony Ive is (or was) primarily a hardware designer. It seems as if all of the iOS 7 icons are based on a single template, and Apple was nice enough to show us that template, right inside the latest version of iOS itself.


I’ve been messing around with iOS 7 and, besides the features I showed you last night (that seemingly went somewhat viral), I’ve noticed one thing that I wanted to take the time to write an entire article on.

When installing an app from the–newly redesigned–App Store, you’ll notice that Apple is no longer using a blank placeholder for when an app is waiting to be installed. Instead, they’ve placed Jony Ive’s app icon template, the very same one Apple gave us a glimpse of during the keynote yesterday afternoon.

The majority of designers already know this, and this article is not aimed at them. Great, you understand Jony Ive’s design philosophy–John Gruber does too. This article is meant to reach the masses of people saying that the icons are simply bad. How could you–even the most dedicated designers among you–say that something made by a multi-billion dollar corporation that will undoubtedly reach hundreds of millions of people, is simply bad? I’m not saying it isn’t, but Jony Ive is in charge of the entire human interface division at Apple, and he himself clearly give this redesign the go-ahead. It’s simply unfair to say that it’s bad and, unless there was intention behind it, I doubt it would have ever been approved–especially by Sir Jony Ive.

The icons aren’t designed to look pretty. Give the little image I created above a look. See a resemblance between the “template” that Apple has oh-so-kindly showed us and the sample 5 official iOS 7 icons? You can see plainly that these 5 app icons were designed around this template and, in fact, all of the other apps are too. It makes sense that Ive would go about it this way considering his countless years of high-precision “aluminium” design.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this: You have to use iOS 7 and feel these icons to get a grasp on what this design language is really about. Ive has added a lot of depth and common sense to the feel of iOS as a whole, and I think the icons only compliment the concept. What’s happening here is that we’re seeing a new category of software design. Ive didn’t intend for his icons to look pretty–Apple clearly proved with iOS 1-6 that they can produce some of the most brilliant icon design in the world. Ive wanted to take a bold step in a new direction that doesn’t just make things “flat” for the sake of being flat. His icons follow a system, and frankly, after using it for a few hours, I have to say it’s a system that works.

As for those gradients, I would love for someone to share a bit of insight.

Post a response / What do you think?