Apple reminds us: Simplicity is hard

Apple’s iOS7 is a great indicator that simplicity is hard. If you’re befuddled by that statement, check out these designers reactions complaints. Now that we’re caught up…

While I certainly made a few jabs on Twitter, my initial reaction was purely based around, what I feel is, “amateur” design. I could care less about flat or skeuomorphic, neon or dull, rounded versus squared off. Those are aesthetic choices for the most part. Label it as you wish. Apple’s decision making reduced the extra noise surrounding iOS. Noise that at one point helped the non-technical folk better understand a new type of interface. iOS7 shows progression. Good on you Apple and any other product / site that does the same. The problem with iOS7 design flaws mostly lie in the backbone of great design: typography, contrast, spacial relationships, and continuity. Mark Boulton tweeted:

“One thing is true. When you remove the noise, your typography had better be good. Because it’s the foundation. It’s the thing.”

Nailed it. When you remove the clutter you’re standing face to face with what makes great design great. And we’ve come to only expect great from Apple. Not amateurish oversights. While I’m surprised to see Apple ship something that was not even a tad more refined, hopefully many of these issues will be addressed as iOS7 matures.

Beyond iOS7 and Apple directly, iOS7 is a great reminder to designers and clients that simplicity is hard. Users and clients hiring design services: you’re viewing the backbone of design and understand what makes great design great (or not so great). Something to think about the next time an email is written with something similar to “shouldn’t take too much time… we just need something simple.” Refinement takes time. Typography isn’t about which typeface looks great, rather which works great. Contrast and spacing help to not only to see more clear, but plays a role in tension and disconnect.

Hopefully, it also reminds us designers, at all skill levels, to refine and revisit our understanding of the important elements of design. Now that we have less time searching for the perfect texture, we have plenty of time to revisit our design principles forefathers.

Now where’s my copy of The Elements of Typographic Style?

Discussion and Comments

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  1. Jonathan Suh says:

    Great write, Brian. I couldn’t agree more. The reactions as a whole from the design community are telling—Apple represents greatness and we expected nothing less than great from them, which in my opinion, is a tremendous compliment.

    We all have our preferences when it comes to aesthetics, but the wounds are deeper when the flaws lie in the fundamentals. The best way I can word it is feels like a violation, even somewhat offensive.

    I will say going back to iOS 6 feels a bit archaic. The fluid interactions and animations (though they can use a bit of tweaking) take iOS 7 to another level. I trust Apple to take on the responsibility, harmonize the UX and UI, and get it right—they’ve proven themselves to have earned my trust.

  2. Brian says:

    @jonathan – Agreed. I too trust Apple to get it “right”. Here’s to progression.

  3. Bang on.

    It’s the equivalent of a musician playing an acoustic live show. Strip away the production and you’re naked, relying solely on the raw elements of what makes your music great.

    Simple *is* hard. Simple takes time and you don’t make something simple by solely stripping things away. You do it by carefully chiseling back the pieces that caused confusion and then polishing what remains.

    Unfortunately in iOS7, there’s a feeling of incompletion that’s tangible to everyone. I’m interested to see how things mature as well.

  4. Connor says:

    This is terrific and such a germane read right now. Thanks for posting!

  5. Bobby G says:

    “I could care less” should be “I couldn’t care less”. It doesn’t make sense otherwise. Think about it for a second, if you could care less, you would.

  6. Chris Da Sie says:


    I think you touch on some excellent points. When you get down to it, it’s about the experience and the content. Having fantastic typography is one of those things that can really help enhance the content and make it easier for the users to understand.

    Great post and I’m glad to see you didn’t jump on the bandwagon of debating Flat vs. Skeuomorphism. This was a lot more refreshing.

  7. Hey, great read.
    My reactions yesterday wash harsh but they still stands, 2 full days of using iOS7 and I’m still confused, it took my less then a couple of ours to understand my first iPhone to top this I work as a UX/UI Designer.

    The round vs. square is a taste thing right nothing there to talk about, but yellow on white, text instead of buttons, half the UI is in one style the other half is in another?

    The best app I’ve seen so far is the WWDC App, It has a new pale look, goes in gray scale, uses some new UI components and some old, but looks and acts wonderful.

    I can only name one new logo that looks good, the photos logo, then you have a mix of flat and 3D ( Game Center ), the new settings icon looks like a stove burner an not cogs.

    When I dreamt of new things from Apple, I dreamt of connectingness, less clutter, more focus on my content, my stories, my phone not apples phone.

    Instead I get an animated ( parrallax background) Animated weather, Super thing fonts, Apps that don’t have a combined aesthetic, the new calculator and compass are the only two apps that looks ok and is functional in a user point of view. Also the new multitasking view is super duper awesome.

    However when Tim states that user satisfaction rates are Apples number 1 priority, and that this is the biggest thing since the iPhone itself, I get sad, lost and feel sorry for Apple.

    I’m a great fanboy and if you measure success in number of people converted from PC world to Mac/iOS I’m scoring high. I love Apple in the backbone and my only wish is for them to reconsider what they’ve done and make it better. I feel down.

  8. Couldn’t agree more that Apple have shown us that design is hard.

    It is important to note that Apple have not *shipped* iOS7 yet though. It is in a closed beta for members of the iOS developer programme. Many things dont work and need fixing. This is why Betas exist.

    Just like all the previous betas Apple has run, expect them to iterate like crazy over the next 2-3 months based off public feedback. Contrary to public perception, that’s what apple is good at; many small incremental iterations.

  9. Antonea says:

    Agreed. I don’t necessarily have an issue with the direction they are heading in. I more so have an issue with the inconsistency in refinement. At first glance all of the home icons don’t look like a icon family, and that concerns me. I’m sure the development and usability plays a big roll in the design and maybe once in motion and interacting with the iOS all those flaws we seem to be picking apart by staring at a static image for 3 minutes won’t be as transparent and may end up to be not flaws at all. It’s 50% design 50% usability. So I guess we will all see once it is released to the public!

  10. Hamranhansenhansen says:

    Great *book* design is all about typography. Great *phone* design is all about buttons, whether T9 dialer or original iPhone home screen. Phones are about fingers tapping buttons.

  11. Brian says:

    That couldn’t be more untrue. Whenever there is any reading involved typography essential. No matter the medium.

Brian Hoff
About Brian Hoff: Designer, Writer and Speaker

I’m a graphic designer living in Brooklyn, New York who loves creating compelling and useful websites and memorable interactions across the web. When I’m not designing I can be found writing, speaking and occasionally part-time teaching at colleges — all on the subject of design. I started this blog to share my passion and experiences with designers and clients. I'm most active on Twitter; say hello: