Helvetica, The easy answer

When Apple previewed iOS7 during the Keynote, they changed the design language in a drastic manner. And since then I’ve watched a couple of WWDC sessions on typography and iOS interface design to find a how and why in their reasoning. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not disagreeing with their choice, but neither do I completely follow their reasoning.

iOS6 was a very image driven design language. Shadows, buttons, gradients and textures defined the way we navigated through the OS and between apps. With iOS7 they threw out the graphical and replaced it with a text based language.

By stripping the graphical, and retaining the textual, iOS now feels more like a framework to move between content, and less like an interface that holds the content.
Content slides in and out, and the menu’s and interface sort of hover around it, easily ignored.

But choosing to put the content first, and interface second, they appear to be saying: don’t design your apps anymore, just use white, a main color and Helvetica as your language, so that the user’s flow isn’t disturbed by different design languages.
It’s a similar way that the classic blue toolbar Apple introduced with iOS unified the design, iOS7 again tries to unify the platform again. But as time showed from iOS up to iOS6 Apps moved away from the classic iOS look, they introduced the hamburger icon, completely rewrote the way the toolbars looked, and moved to more gesture driven designs. And apps that still us the stock design feel old, half-assed, and cheap.

But with iOS7 Apple creates a bigger issue. How does one improve on Helvetica? Or how do you create your own voice without contradicting the design language.

The meaning is in the content of the text and not in the typeface, and that is why we loved Helvetica very much. – Wim Crouwel, Helvetica

Most people who use Helvetica, use it because it’s ubiquitous. It’s like going to McDonald’s instead of thinking about food. Because it’s there, it’s on every street corner, so let’s eat crap because it’s on the corner. – Erik Spiekermann, Helvetica

I use a trick with co-workers when we’re trying to decide where to eat for lunch and no one has any ideas. I recommend McDonald’s. An interesting thing happens. Everyone unanimously agrees that we can’t possibly go to McDonald’s, and better lunch suggestions emerge. Magic! – Medium

Helvetica is the default choice when designing something clean. It’s ubiquitous, it’s classic, it’s uberdesign. But it’s also the easy choice, the default answer. And just as answering the question ‘Where shall we eat’ with ‘McDonalds’ triggers better answers from people, the choice for Helvetica should trigger the question ‘How can we improve upon that?’. But for designers, when they now want to improve upon Apple’s choice, their Apps will feel as a contra-position, a reaction and possible a disagreement with Apple’s choice, instead of an improvement. Apple, by choosing the easy default, creates a design language where, if Apps choose to improve or adapt upon it, will automatically feel out of place, not following the rules, and wrong. So I fear most apps will choose to follow the guidelines for now, just to fit in place.

By opting for Helvetica in iOS7 Apple doesn’t allow for these reactions. In a world where Helvetica and white rule the design language, you can’t iterate, you can only follow the design principle, or do the exact opposite.

So I wonder, will iOS7 trigger an App Store where all apps will be Helvetica, blurry, heavily type-based? Or will we see apps that don’t fit at all. Still choose a graphical style and pick Comic Sans as their default font just to be different?

You can say, “I love you,” in Helvetica. And you can say it with Helvetica Extra Light if you want to be really fancy. Or you can say it with the Extra Bold if it’s really intensive and passionate, you know, and it might work. – Massimo Vignelli, Helvetica