Nokia Lumia Windows phone (photographed badly on an iPhone)
Jonathan Ive’s tenure at Apple has produced a long, successful sequence of product design revolutions leading to the touchscreen interface. It is now so dominant that physical design is arguably being usurped by graphic design as the driver of functionality. Apple’s record in graphics is mostly strong (I always liked their instruction booklets) but recently they seem less sure-footed.
iTunes is much harder work than it used to be (and its ‘new logo’ was widely disliked); the iCal leather / stitching effects are retro and retrograde. Even the ‘candy box’ iPhone / iPad apps homescreens, once fresh and friendly now seem more irritating than helpful. The iPhone remains a beautiful piece of work (even if its most impressive features – like the beautifully machined, spookily high-tolerance sim card tray – are hidden from view by the bumper required for practical everyday operation), but sentimental airbrush effects are starting to make Apple products seem behind the curve for the first time. This was thrown into sharp relief for me by the wife’s new Nokia Lumia 800 Windows phone (purchased against my sage advice of course. Wrong again, dammit.). The product design (above) is restrained and elegant and there is a crisp customisable tile-based interface with simple, elegant animations and well-structured, spare typography using Monotype’s Segoe WP typeface. I’m envious of a non-Apple product for the first time in… ever. This is good news – competition raises the game and there is no reason why Apple must have a monopoly on good design. The Windows phone has let in some UI fresh air and is making Apple look just a bit… stuffy.
Since the passing of St. Steve, many are watching for Apple to trip up, but it is years too soon to suggest that Apple have lost their way, despite some iffy details. In iOS5 maps there is pretty detail that is not always helpful and odd impracticalities, like directions indicated by a fat blue line (below left) that annoyingly obscure the road names / numbers you are following. But Apple filed a patent last year for sparse ‘schematic’ map presentations (below right) – showing only essential information that point to a different approach in future.
Personally I can’t wait for this and hope it signals the beginning of the end of Apple’s graphic mission creep and mojo-recovery for their 2D design dept. As far as I am aware no Apple graphic designer has ever enjoyed anything like Jonathan Ive’s exalted status within the company. In establishing himself as a visionary CEO, Tim Cook could do worse than create an equivalent position for a graphic designer to ensure that Apple information design matches its product design quality in future (feel free to call me, Mr. C.).