Archive for ‘Elements of Style’ Category

Apple’s iOS 7′s Design Is Nostalgic About the Future

Posted by Robert Weitz on July 10, 2013 12:34 PM

I’m going to try to simplify a controversy that has started with the unveiling of Apple’s latest mobile operating system iOS 7 and will undoubtedly heat up once people get a chance to play with it and discover how usable, how fun or how frustrating the actual user experience is. Cliff Kuang’s article - The Design Battle Behind Apple’s iOS 7 in Wired does a great job explaining the nature of the collision inside Apple between the old interface style and the new design of iOS 7. It seems that there has been a long standing schism at Apple between the humanistic user interface designers and the purist modern industrial designers.

Skeoumorphism Replaced By Simplicity In Layers

Skeoumorphism Replaced By Simplicity In Layers

Since the inception of personal computers, engineers and designers have looked to the analog past for ways to help you and I understand how to navigate and operate a new kind of machine that is not like a rotary phone, an envelope or a smiling human face. Also designers—especially those who were interested in integrating the computer into our daily life—searched for ways to help us connect emotionally with these new alien machines that seemed cold and distant. So these humanistic designers adopted a philosophy of design that, once it was technically possible, imitated natural materials and known formats like the yellow notepad or the address book bound in fine leather.

Mac-IconsProponents of skeuomorphism tell us that familiar objects and materials help you connect with and know how to use buttons and interface elements, and that the familiarity helps create an emotional bond. Leather, yellow pads, dial telephones make us feel warm and fuzzy because they remind us of another happier, more familiar time. So, the skeuomorphites had a good point—the fake leather and 3D looking buttons made the iPhone look and feel like a real object rather than a flat, cold bunch of lines and spaces. Conventions that we took from the pre-iPhone world helped us re-orient ourselves to a new way of doing things.


To a purist, maybe one of the purest designers, Jony Ive, skeuomorphism must have been like putting monster truck tires on his Porsche. When you are steeped in modernism and worship at the alter of Dieter Rams, faux leather and fake highlights are not for you. Why look to the past when you are busy inventing the future?

Most people today have a smart phone, are familiar with its intrinsic functionality. Young people barely remember rotary phones, yellow pads or leather bound address books. The next generations of iPhone users don’t need reminders of a time they have never experienced, and they no longer have to get oriented to the device.

So why did Jony Ive want to get rid of skeoumorphism? Better display technology makes transparent 3D display possible. This makes the screen much more usable if the screen is not cluttered. The problem is that you need to get rid of all the 3D-looking stuff in order to use the new 3D layers or you will get mud.

My firm, Fahrenheit Studio, has designed many user interfaces for the web, applications and mobile. While 3D layers provide tremendous opportunities for quick access in a small area, they can get very muddy and cluttered, especially when you have a bunch of faux reflections, leather textures, and rotary phones that pop off the page. Every media type has rules of execution, and layers require clarity and simplicity.

Complexity = Mud for layered interface design.

But don’t confuse simplicity with simplistic. The 3D layers don’t need fake textures to be gorgeous and rich. The simple interplay of line and form can be as warm but hopefully will not be fuzzy. Modern architecture, industrial and product design has always stood for simplicity and clarity, and except for its venture into skeoumorphic design, Apple has been a leader in modern product design. While there were many excellent reasons for the skeuomorphism of old, the new interface fixes an inconsistency in the Apple brand and reconnects it with simple, clean, materially-honest modern industrial design.

Tagging – Two Cultures Scribble Their Hopes + Wishes

Posted by Robert Weitz on August 9, 2011 1:06 PM

I popped downtown to take one more look at MOCA’s “Art In The Streets” show before it closed. It seemed that every artist, tagger, curioista and his sister decided to catch a final last minute look at the exquisitely scrawled installations by the master taggers turned sophisticated artists of the early 80′s.

Scrawling on walls, hanging scribbles and banners in the landscape goes back to the beginning of recorded history. In fact, the first scribble marked the beginning of recorded history! We do it carefully, we do it wistfully, we do it in anger (“Eat the rich” and “Down with Gaddafi”), and we express our hopes and aspirations.

So, I was delighted to bump into another expression of our instinct to scribble—Tanabata, also known as the “star festival,” was being celebrated in Little Tokyo (LA), and I had to walk through the main plaza to get to MOCA.

Hanging on specific trees were notes expressing people’s wishes: Wishes for jobs, wishes for things, and wishes for health, love and happiness. Some were obviously written by children and they evoked the same impulse to scrawl and scribble that the ancient cave paintings and our lovely street art does!

Godd Is In The Dettails – Kunming Retailer Trashes Apple Brand

Posted by Robert Weitz on July 21, 2011 10:33 PM

I could not resist the urge to discuss this story in BirdAbroad’s blog. BirdAbroad takes us to an “Apple Store” in Kunming, China, that is a fake!

Apple Store

The reason I could not resist is that comparing the real Apple brand to the fake Apple brand is a great way to demonstrate the importance of things like quality control, consistency, honesty and legitimacy in the making of a great world-renowned brand. The reason we brand merchandise and services is that we either want to clue people to the quality of our products or, in this case, deceive people about the quality and trustworthiness of fakes! Wanna buy a Rolex cheap? Or is this an authentic Gucci handbag replica?

The problem is that the real Apple, Rolex or Gucci makes a promise and keeps it, while the fake is a lie and cannot live up to the high standard of people who really care about their long-term relationship with customers. The real Apple store cares about quality control, consistency, integrity and honesty because they want to keep you involved with their brand for life, while the fake Apple store wants your money and is willing to fake an entire brand to get it. The reason this is such an interesting job of fakery is that it is like the joke: A con man goes into a store in a remote rural part of the U.S. and tries to pass some $18 bill. The clerk in the store agrees to break his $18 bill, asking him if he wants three $6 or two $9!

While there are so many blatant errors in the counterfeit Apple Store, the glaring examples underline many of the mistakes companies make in the design, execution and oversight of their brands:

  • A brand promise that is impossible to fulfill.
  • Inconsistent graphics, colors and material choices.
  • Poor execution: graphic no-nos abound to the designer. The public will just sense the place is a little crappier and less organized and beautiful.
  • Horrible quality control: Spelling (obviously not a dealbreaker in China), look and feel, peeling paint, wanky staircases are so not Apple!!!
  • Fraud and trademark infringement: While this is obvious, we have witnessed a devil-may-care attitude in marketing that results in brand confusion, search engine ambiguity and lawsuits.

The Apple, Rolex and Gucci brands are what they are because of a fanatical effort that goes into every aspect of their company and the way they present themselves. While Apple, Rolex and Gucci are the real thing, this fake Apple Store is a “paper tiger.” It has stripes and a tail, but you can stick your hand right through it.

Cultcha – Or How We Scrawl

Posted by Robert Weitz on July 20, 2011 3:36 PM

You don’t have to be an art critic to notice that the graphic styles featured in Art in the Streets at MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary would probably not be appropriate for banking or air traffic control instructions. It’s an amazing backdrop for a party that featured multiple DJs, light shows, and some robotic dummy taggers to boot.

Art in the Streets

No matter what you think about post 1970’s street art, its cultural reach and—in the case of Banksy or Keith Haring—its artistic genius is indisputable. While constantly being weighed against more orthodox and established art, street art is often a huge influence on mainstream art, design, and fashion. So much so that it’s about to become passé or retro!

So don’t forget to wear your hoodie to the show. When you are cruising around, remember that our more stuffy museums are full of works by the Russian Constructivists, Toulouse-Lautrec, Utamaru, among many others that are extremely influenced by the art of the street. It’s in the passion and spontaneous expression of the street artists that we discover the seeds of things to come!

“Art in the Streets” at Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles, through August 8, 2011.

A Wonderful Day In The Neighborhood – Reflections On Steel and Glass

Posted by Robert Weitz on May 20, 2009 9:48 AM