Oct 12

Jony Ive to the rescue!

I’ve never been a fan of the cheesy leather stitching that’s crept into OS X and iOS 6.

Actually, let me rephrase that:

I loathe it.

It’s not like I’m alone. I’ve never had a problem finding people equally repelled. Many in the design community have openly expressed their contempt.

This is the “skeuomorphism” issue that has reportedly been a point of dissension inside Apple between the Scott Forstall and Jony Ive camps. Should apps be designed to look like their real-world counterparts?

It’s one thing to create a skeuomorphic theme for an app. It’s quite another to create one that dates back to ancient times. I’ve never had a “desk blotter” calendar. Maybe my father did. Certainly no one under 40 can relate to it.

And what is it about the Find My Friends app that deserves the leather stitched treatment?

Particularly in OS X, this type of design is a noticeable blemish in an elegant interface whose muted grays are designed not to distract.

Fortunately, Tim Cook has just restored order. Jony Ive alone is now responsible for “human interface” across all Apple products.

If you think about it, Tim just fixed a huge problem. Apple has always boasted that it creates superior products because it controls the hardware and software. Yet there was one person in charge of hardware design, another in charge of iOS 6 and another in charge of OS X.

Each OS needs a capable person to manage it, which they now have. Putting Jony in charge of interface across all products makes perfect sense. No longer will Jony’s team design amazing devices, only to have another team compromise them with questionable software design.

Back when the skeuomorphic design first appeared in Lion, I published a critical article about it.

That post concluded with the following sentence: “I just have one request for the next version of OS X: please run it by Jony before you do anything rash.”

Thank the technology gods that this will now be Apple’s official policy.

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  • Mark

    “Skeuomorphism” was anyhow supported by SJ, and it is time that this mistake is corrected. About Scott, he has always had a protected position under SJ. I am sincerely glad they kicked him out as apart from being the DRI Apple Maps, it is known that at least Jony,Eddy Cue and Bob Mansfield HATED the guy.And so an end comes to Scott’s career at Apple, and all though he did a good job over the years, I think it is good to see him leave. Great move by Tim to let Jony be in charge of overall design (including software). Ken, what is/was your personal experience with Scott Forstall? Did you interact with him during your work at Apple? Care to share a story?

  • Dr.

    I think skeuomorphism is perfect way
    to distinguish Apple’s design from the competition.

    If all you have is color, rounded squares then what
    is the point of design patents.
    I am sure all icons will be chamfered with laser precision
    but will be easily scratch-able.

    Don’t tell me Jony Ives hasn’t made mistakes.
    Did he apologize from them.
    Why is it that 200 million have upgraded to IOS 6,
    if maps are such a problem. Apple switched now
    so that Google wouldn’t be able to supply their maps
    until the current contract runs out. I am sure it wasn’t
    Scott Forestall’s decision.

  • Clint

    I like the stitched leather. It reminds me of my father who passed away a couple of years ago: I remember as a child I sat in our basement with him while he worked away repairing shoes (his small side business) with his leather sewing machine, ketone based glues, and his calm and humorous demeanor.

    I have a natural leather cover for my iPad. I buy nice solid leather belts. I have well crafted leather shoes. I have a fancy Italian leather cover for my day planner. And I really like remembering my father. Why should you dictate my preference in screen decor. Shouldn’t I just be able to choose the one I prefer from a selection? Including “skeuomorphs”, for which I may have my personal reasons.

  • Gonji

    Skeuomorphic design in itself isn’t a problem, in fact it can be quite useful to understand how an app should function. If we look at computers we have Apple and Microsoft Desktops with folders; looking back further there was Amiga Worbench with drawers. So we have always design on computers that we can relate back to the real world.

    The problem is when skeuomorphism gets out of control and distracts from the function of the application (Game Center) or has no logical reason for being there in the place (Find my Friends). At the other end of the scale, if we move away from designs that relate to the real world, some people, especially those less technically literate, may have problems learning and relating to the new technology.

    So, a balance is required so the rest of us can bare looking at our iPads and iPhones again, but that also allow others to instantly look at an app and understand what it is meant to do. So, my plea to Jony would be that we need to see the real world through our glass screens so we can relate back, just leave out the butt ugly bits.

  • meena_chandar

    I like the stitched leather finish. It is a matter of taste. Different people have different taste. Not sure what your recommendation would be to replace this design. Make it bland??? i guess we can accept or argue against any design. We need to go beyond design discussions and see how the app works. I cant think of any other platform having an app that works so well like “find my friends”

  • mickey D

    Great comments Ken. I was so shocked when I opened up the new iCal – to see it regress to that state. I like renfairs, but not in my software :)

  • joebella

    I think this is one of those things that deeply bother design people, but if you ask my mom, she would say “It’s nice.” On the flip side, if you ask a lot of design what they think of the Metro interface, a lot of them would say it’s beautiful and cutting edge. Though I have not asked my mom, I would suspect she would find it intimidating.

  • ksegall

    I would never suggest making it bland. I suggest making it beautiful — which is what Steve Jobs, Jony Ive and Apple have done so well in the past. Every part of OS X used to be consistently simple and elegant. The stitched leather motif is something else entirely.

    But I do agree wholeheartedly with your opinion that different people have different taste. What has always appealed about OS X is that its simplicity appealed to a great number of people. Once they started adding gaudy things like fake leather, they were off in an area where great numbers of people get turned off. If Apple must go in that direction, they might at least give people the option of a few different themes so they can pick one they like.

    Personally, I use a free utility called Mountain Tweaks to just turn off the leather. It’s replaced by a simple cool gray that looks like the rest of OS X.

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