What News Designers Can Learn From iOS7

ios7 photo


The pros and cons of iOS7 have been pretty well picked over since the new operating system debuted on Sept. 18. But after a few weeks of living with it – and loving most of it, I’ll admit – it occurred to me there are few things the news business could learn from the design:

1. Banish skeuomorphism.

Designers employing skeuomorphism make new items look like older analogues – the stitched-leather look of the old iCal, for example, or the wooden bookshelves that constituted the newsstand. Apple’s designers have eliminated these design attributes in favor of a clean, colorful, modern design that doesn’t reference the past.

What’s the application to the news business? Again and again news executives have made the mistake of employing new technology as a mere vessel for their old products – think of the “shovelware” mentality that led them to just dump the contents of newspapers onto their websites instead of designing for the new medium.

Shovelware lives, of course. Just check out some middle-market newspaper websites and you’ll see designs that reference the dead-tree edition at every turn, from hoary 20th-century-style page-one layouts to a complete lack of links, video and other web-native features. In a sense, shovelware is but an older, cruder form of skeuomorphism, and one that, needless to say, newspapers should have long since abandoned if they hope to survive in the web/mobile era.

The same is true of newspaper apps. Many rely on the skeuomorphic device of page-turning for navigation, as if the pixelated screen of a smartphone or tablet were a mere analogue of folded newsprint and ink. The New York Times app, despite its many drawbacks, takes a giant step toward leaving this behind and embracing the web/mobile ethos with navigation that’s based on one long vertical scroll – infinitely easier to use in one-handed mobile situations than a symphony of swipes.

Skeuomorphism is employed by modern designers as a crutch for users making the transition from old tech to new tech. It’s time for newspaper website and app designers to kick out the crutch and get on with the future. Transition time is over.

2. Love that white space

The overall look and feel of iOS7 is lighter and brighter than its predecessor. Thinner fonts and whiter backgrounds predominate. Some app designers, like those who created the Times and AP entries, have employed acres of white space to air out their designs.  (OK, in the case of AP it’s actually black space. And never mind for now the glitches in the Times automation that place huge empty gaps on some pages.)

This makes the designs much easier on the eye than before, which is a particular relief in small-screen mobile situations. Tell me, since we are always yacking about how space is infinite in cyberspace, why do so many news designer cramp their web pages and apps with heads, columns and photos as if they were trying to squeeze their content onto a grain of rice? Get with it, folks, and loosen it up.

3. Design for delight

There’s really no functional reason for the zooming, swooshing and parallax effects that characterize iOS7. They’re only there to delight users – and delightful they are (assuming you are not among that unhappy bunch that gets carsick from looking at them). So why is it that so many news designers produce plodding, eat-your-peas web pages and apps that only produce delight when the user shuts them down? As a friend of mine likes to say, “Life is not a penance.” And reading the news shouldn’t be either.