“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci
They did it again, boy did they ever. This week Apple unveiled its holy grail of new technology – the iPhone which combines the iPod, cell phone and Internet handheld into one device. Hmmm- shouldn’t it be named the iDevice then? Maybe it will be.
Steve Jobs, the “Babe Ruth” of new technology and gadgets, hit another grand slam with this product but what makes Apple so good?
Yeah, sure they have tons of loot (with worldwide annual sales in its fiscal year 2006 of US$ 19.3 billion) and have been around since the late 70′s giving them time to make mistakes and learn from them, but what about the design or aesthetics that makes it so appealing to the devoted masses it attracts?
If we are asking that question then first lets quickly go over what aesthetics are.
Aesthetics examine what makes something beautiful, ugly, sublime, boring, etc… The surface “look and feel” aspects that deal with appearances. Judgments of aesthetics can involve numerous other issues as well both personal and cultural.
For instance we might judge a Hummer to be beautiful or sexy partly because it is desirable as a status symbol or it can evoke some sexual desirability, thus the term ‘sexy’ is often used to describe something that begs of you to ‘get to know’ it better- it attracts and compels you as if it was some primal urge and maybe it is.
Or we might judge it to be repulsive partly because it signifies for us over-consumption of gasoline and offends our political or moral values. Or maybe a mixture of the two.
Many see a rose as a beautiful flower because of its proportions and simplicity or that it is associated with love. Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy so, like all philosophy, it can get pretty deep.
Apple has been at it for awhile now. Lets look at some of the various stages the Apple logo has gone through. From its first appearance in the late 70′s with its engraving style featuring Isaac Newton under his famed apple tree (left). to the rainbow logo (middle) with all its full color glory to today’s refined simple grey version (right) of the Apple with sleek gradients that give it a sense of depth and weight.
OK, so what makes Apple’s design so damn sexy? What makes good design may be a better question to start with.
Something that is designed well will satisfy every requirement or need of the user in a clear concise fashion. Simply put, design solves problems in whatever medium it is pertaining to.
That being said lets take a look at the layout from the new iPhone page on Apples site and see how it fulfills the needs of the user (my needs) which are to find out information regarding the new iPhone.
They all have a simplicity to the elements in terms of arrangement and relationship within the overall composition.
The imagery is appropriate to the page, no excess froth here- just the product and some text. Simple things are easier to explain and understand thus making them easier to use.
There is a simpleness even down to the Sans Serif typeface used cutting out all the extra flourish and focusing on what is being said with clarity and legibility.
“There’s an applied style of being minimal and simple, and then there’s real simplicity.” -Jonathan Ive
Jonathan Ive, Senior Vice-President for Industrial Design is the man behind the man at Apple who is primarily responsible for the stark minimalist look of the products. “This looks simple, because it really is.”
The page is full of healthy negative space “white space” (or black space, shown with red bars) , both macro and micro. This acts as a buffer and helps to guide the viewer’s eyes through the page helping to facilitate the digestion of the content and imagery.
We do not see any extra images or text on the layout- just the pertinent information, all without vertical scrolling on my 1280×1024 monitor.
The color palette is also refined to predominantly cool colors with a neutral base (blues, greens residing on grays and blacks/whites). This limiting of the color used within the design focuses attention better to the main information or imagery.
The use of color and form to attract attention to buttons is also very effective. I see that the blue gradient rounded square on the top right side of the content area, with the compass icon on it, is giving the illusion of depth- it’s a button- just like on the iPhone itself, consistency helps with usability.
If we do a comparative analysis of another page layout from a ‘similar’ product, say the Zune mp3 player from Microsoft we see certain similarities and vast differences.
Zune’s page is filled with a lot more content than the iPhone layout . The images of the actual product are not as crisp and all seemed to be a bit cropped, not showing the full product, why is this?
Apple shows us the iPhone in beautifully crisp clarity and in with a reference for scale by placing it in the hot little hands of a human, not on a picnic table. Maybe Zune was trying to highlight its earth toned “brown” color?
The text on Zunes page describing the “technical specifications” for the player seems a bit to “techie” to me and the length of the text goes well below the fold. There is something not so great, in my opinion and the opinion of some others, in giving out to many choices (what too many is nobody really knows).
Zune seems to have tried to fill the real estate with the “Times Square” method of putting everything in one dense area within a grid structure. I would have thought the tone would be more casual and “hip” trying to appeal to a certain culture while remaining sleek.
If we look back to Apples iPhone page the text tells you a bit about what the product is/does then below it highlights the main feature again with buttons that link to pages that go more in depth regarding specific features.
Albeit the products are not identical in what they offer, but the designs and layouts of the feature pages can be compared for aesthetics as well as functionality for this experiment.
Both pages are from huge companies that employ very able and talented graphic designers/artist, user interface designers and information architects to sell their products- and they do it well, but it just seems that Apple does it much better.
“You can always recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity.” — Richard Feynman