Talking iOS 7 design with Scott Stephens

The release of iOS 7 brought a lot of discussion about design, user interfaces and the direction of mobile operating systems. Some of the most insightful comments on my Twitter timeline came from Scott Stephens, a young mobile app designer based in London. Weeks later, we are still discussing flat designs and new app updates. What better excuse to continue our talk than turning the conversation into an interview for the site?

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Two months after the release of iOS 7, how has it settled in with you?

I'm actually really enjoying the new OS. I've had it on my iPhone since the first beta so I've been able to use for quite a while now. Obviously there are some aspects of the new design style that need improving but overall I'm enjoying this new direction Apple have taken. By removing the chrome it's put the content first and brightened the whole OS to give it a new refreshing feel.

If you had to choose, what would be the main like and dislike?

The main thing I like from iOS 7 is the new physics that have greatly improved the animations and transitions through the iOS. The calendar app uses animations to guide you through each of the different views almost seamlessly. The way these animations make the UI feel alive is a massive improvement from the previous version. It's scary to go back to iOS 6 after using iOS 7. Not only does it look outdated but it feels it too.

The one main dislike I have is how unfinished it feels on the iPad. There are still a lot of bugs and little errors that I keep finding. It's not a bug but the 4-finger swipe gesture from the bottom of the iPad to show the app switcher feels completely wrong in iOS 7 now. The gesture suggests the app switcher will come from the bottom of the screen but it actually pushes the screen to the left.

I completely agree the iPad doesn't feel great. I was close to not to upgrade hearing there were a lot of small details still to polish there. Any critical thing that keeps bugging you?

From a design point of view it has to be some of the app icons. The grid used makes everything seem a little too big. For the most part this new style is nice and fresh but I've made sure to hide a few of them away in folders so I'll never see them again.

From a features point of view I really wanted to see big improvements to the App Store and also Game Center. The App Store is this huge place where you can find lots of brilliant apps for your iOS device but it's currently quite hard to filter. The geek in me would love to see some sort of App Store profile where you could see what other users are downloading, what their favourite apps are and what their homescreen looks like.

That would be brilliant! Now that you mention it, Game Center shows games downloaded and played recently.

I also love playing games on my iPhone and iPad and would love to see Game Center taken a little more seriously and thought about. It's currently not integrated enough into games and feels like a quick add on to most things. I'd love to see it improved to be similar to Xbox Live In terms of that deeper social integration.

What kind of comments are you hearing from non-geek friends?

Overall all my non-geek friends have welcomed the change and were actually excited to use it when I showed them the beta. I actually gave my dad my old iPhone 4S, which was running the beta. This is his first iPhone so he can't compare it to iOS 6. He's been really enjoying it so far and hasn't had any problems with any of the design changes Apple have made.

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From a design standpoint, is iOS 7 influential? Is it really recognisable as Apple design?

I feel that right now it's been very influential in terms of a visual style. A lot of apps have gone for light colour palettes, borderless buttons and stroke icons. A lot of designers and developers don't want their apps to feel dated so their first thoughts are to base their apps on iOS 7. Over time I think we will see apps begin to regain some of their personality while still being influenced by iOS 7.

In a few instances Apple took the design too far in the other direction when comparing to iOS 6. I'm really looking forward to seeing how they build on this visual style for iOS 8 and beyond. This new style should really only be compared to the first iOS as iOS 6 had 5 years to mature and be tweaked.

That's so true. I guess we don't remember how the first iPhone didn't even have the option to change backgrounds.... Now we have them with fancy parallax effects, which I find a little superfluous. What design trends do you think will slowly fade away or tone down in the future?

The physics behind all the animations in iOS 7 make it fluid and great to use but I can see some of this being toned down in the future. I also hope to see iOS 8 bring back some of the personality that iOS 7 lost. It's been refreshing to see this new clean style but I feel in some instances it's gone to far in that direction.

Because iOS 7 is such a big difference from iOS 6 it seems the majority of app designers have been worried to come up with something new to fit in with this new style.

A lot of apps that have been updated recently have fallen into this trap too and have lost some of their personality. Too many apps have a white UI with text buttons, line iconography and a white app icon.

Now about third-party apps. What are your favourite examples of apps adapting to the new aesthetics?

A lot of apps have currently updated their UI visually but haven't truly thought about how to improve on the experience. This will be achieved on how a user can interact with the app through transitions and animations. A couple of apps to have done this is a note taking app called Vesper and more recently Tweetbot 3.

Vesper's work adapting the navigation bar for iOS 7

Vesper's work adapting the navigation bar for iOS 7

Vesper is a very simple note-taking app that is largely based around notes being tagged into specific groups. The apps visual design hasn't actually changed that much from iOS 6 to 7 but the transitions between different states of the app are fluid and fit in very well with iOS 7's native transitions. Its side menu also uses a cool transparency, which actually shows your homescreen wallpaper, which is amazing (Note: unfortunately this has been taken out of the latest version of Vesper).

Out of all the apps due an upgrade Tweetbot was the one I was most looking forward to. It also reminds me the most of iOS 7 as it's visual design could do with some slight improvements (its timeline doesn't feel as tight as Twitterrific's) but its level of detail on the animations and user experience has been greatly improved since the previous version making it quicker and easier to use.

I must admit I haven't tried Vesper on iOS 7 because I returned to Simplenote and really liked the new version. Any other apps you like?

Some other honourable mentions are: + Memoir, has a fresh visual style. + Tick, a new To-Do app that has a night and day mode. + Boxie, a Dropbox client that builds on the experience by creating a visual style that fits for iOS 7.

You're now curating apps on a new site called App Archives. What was the motivation behind it?

For a while I've wanted to share my thoughts and opinions on some of the apps that I find so other people can download and use them to improve the experience they have with their phone. I also wanted to create a site that other app designers would like to follow to get inspiration for the apps they're designing. I wish I'd started the site earlier as it would have been nice to have blogged about the transition of apps from iOS 6 to 7. I love downloading apps and checking out the design, features and how I could use it somehow in my life.

I also wanted to keep a site that I could draw inspiration from for my own work. I'm currently working at The App Business in London designing mobile apps so to have a place where I can record my thoughts on how other apps have been designed will be great.

A lot of sites that are about apps tend to not have detailed specifics about the apps design. I've started App archives to give my opinions from a designers point of view on the apps interface and user experience.

What is your preferred way to keep updated about new apps?

There are a few ways I keep updated about new apps. Twitter tends to be the best place to find out about apps if you follow the right people. Most of the time the news about a new app will be tweeted about before it's posted anywhere else on the web.

I also use the app Flipboard in my iPad to keep up to date with sites such as MacRumors, AppFreak and Beautiful Pixels. These usually have a ton of great content such as more in depth app reviews; It's great to read these site's posts once I've downloaded the app and checked it out myself.

I'm also subscribed to Beautiful Pixels and look up to the work of Preshit and his colleagues. It's always great to hear from professional designers about software we use every day. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and I'm hoping to read more from you at AppArchiv.es.

 

Bio - Scott Stephens

My passion for app design started whilst at university, where I designed an app to help students manage their finances. I joined the design team at The App Business in London after graduating and enjoy creating engaging digital mobile experiences for our clients.

You can follow App Archives on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook.

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