This week on t’internets the Twitterati have been set alight by the hype surrounding the “design” of Apple’s new iOS – version 7. I say “design” because many of the commentators have been quick to highlight the aesthetic qualities resembling those of Apple’s key competitors, whether they be Google’s Android or Microsoft’s Metro UI schemes. To my mind these debates are inevitable but unfortunately lack much in the way of value.
The debate lacks purpose because after a while, and specifically for interfaces that are often used, aesthetic aspects become secondary to utility. It’s also been proven that UX designers themselves are very poor judges of the quality of an interface based on looks alone (see Dillon and Black, Aesthetics and user performance [PPT]). That is not to say, however, that aesthetics are not important. It is more that aesthetics are just one element of the experience and should not be assessed in isolation.
Aesthetics and emotion in digital interfaces is a topic that is endlessly debated in UX circles. Stephen B Andersen in particular makes a good case for how aesthetic excellence creates a more emotive bond between your product and your customer, and how brand also plays a role in helping people forgive disappointing functional design or lack of utility.
And while aesthetics are important, there are so many more important topics to focus on. It’s a shame, for example, that the aesthetics debate around iOS7 will most likely cloud the very interesting direction Apple is taking towards integrating its mobile devices and its laptop and desktop machines. For me, these are the new parts of the Apple user experience that will have lasting impact once the new OS appears. There aren’t so many pretty pictures to accompany those, unfortunately.
And so, the blog and tech journo hype machine rolls on to the next big launch. We will have to wait until the autumn to see whether iOS really improves the user experience.
* Quote from Steve Jobs, 2003