The Breakroom

Flat is the New Black

August 9, 2013

By Cheryl Cicha

Apple’s recent introduction of iOS 7 is understandably a shock to many people, especially after years of the textures, chrome and dimension of Aqua-style design. iOS 7’s flat approach presents a new challenge for iOS developers and designers; how do you make your app stand out in a crowded field of similarly styled icons with even less opportunity for differentiation?

As icon designers that means we need to be more creative, particularly at the concept stage and then craft the icon with an experienced eye for the ever-so-subtle adjustments that elevate it to beautiful, effective design. For those of us at the Iconfactory, designing for iOS 7 builds on over fifteen years of experience. Apple has created the foundation for flat but it’s up to the design and development community to push those boundaries in innovative ways. The ability to distill a concept down to its core ideals and remove everything that isn’t absolutely necessary to communicate effectively is both humbling and crucial as we move forward into this new era of mobile design.

Anyone who hones a craft makes it look easy when it’s not. Too quickly we perceive unqualified successes without considering the journey that it took to get there. That simple apple with the bite out of it took more than a few iterations. What we often take for granted is the exploration needed to reduce an idea to its essence, yet create something that resonates. We just know when it does. When looking at the final design we need to ask ourselves, is it beautiful in its simplicity and more importantly, does it create a connection?

If you assume that Apple’s flat style makes it easier and faster to create a great app icon, think different. Those tiny illustrations have a tall order to fill. At a basic level app icons are a tool for getting us to pay attention but we also want them to be beautiful images that make us say, “Wow, I want that.” Just because flat looks simple doesn’t mean it is. It’s not about the style. Fundamentally it’s about problem solving; crafting a small, unique image that creates connection with an app at a glance and makes us engage on a visceral level.

Get a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to transform an iOS 6 icon to iOS 7 styling.