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Wired on Jony Ive, iOS 7 and the future of design

John Maeda took issue with Jony Ive's recently unveiled design scheme for iOS 7 in a Wired post this morning, and it's apparent that the writer -- a well-known academic in the design world -- isn't happy with the new, flatter iOS or the direction in which Apple seems to be pointing the world of user interface design.

As Maeda points out up front, much of the buzz around the design changes in iOS 7 has been positive, noting that "skeuomorphism teaches by analogy" and that "it's time to remove the 'training wheels'" since most people now understand how a smartphone is supposed to work. Maeda, however, thinks that "design should boldly go where no user or interface has gone before," and that in the world of "infinitely available and infinitely malleable" pixels, designers "should focus on setting them free."

Ive and crew, in Maeda's opinion, are "hindering innovation" by sticking "to the dangerously reductionist, technology-usability centric view of design that surfaced in the discussions about flat design versus skeuomorphism."

With all due respect to Maeda, who is a graphic designer, computer scientist, president of the Rhode Island School of Design, artist, former associate director of research at MIT Media Lab and "one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st century according to Esquire" (which apparently forgot that there are still 87 years left in the century), the Wired guest editorial does nothing to say what direction UI designers should be heading in. Sure, Maeda suggests that Apple and other companies should be moving in the direction of Oblong (co-founded in 2006 by the "chief computer visionary behind the film Minority Report") or Berg (makers of the playful, yet ridiculously expensive Little Printer), but offers nothing concrete in terms of where he thinks the device UI design movement should head next. Using those two particular companies as positive examples of the design seems awkward -- the "waving your arms around like an idiot" UI of Minority Report makes no sense in a mobile world, and Berg's latest product is priced out of mass-market reality.

Maeda doesn't seem to acknowledge the fact that iOS 7 isn't the final generation of Apple's vision for device interfaces; it's just another step on the long road towards a UI that will be constantly evolving with technology and what the public expects and desires. Certainly the Apple designers have a vision for the future and are working towards that, but is it really going to do any tech company any good to introduce a user interface that is ahead of its time?

I'm sure that Maeda's article is one of the first that we'll see in a long parade by design experts. When one of the experts finally comes up with concrete ideas for a next-generation UI that balances ease of use, user acceptance and device power requirements, then it will be time to start paying attention. In the meantime, posts by the design community either praising or defiling Apple's latest work are, in the words of Shakespeare's Macbeth, tales "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

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