Find: Look, Feel, and Newness

Is software becoming more like fashion: it must be renewed regularly? I think so. Though for some more than others. 

// published on Adaptive Path // visit site

Look, Feel, and Newness

This post is by Shahrzad Samadzadeh, one of Adaptive Path's 2013 summer interns.

Like any group of people passionate about design, the Adaptive Path studio had a lot to say about the release of iOS7 last month: how it looks, how it works, and what it means. The public backlash to the redesign has ranged from incredulous to hilarious, but when I watched the live stream of the WWDC unveiling I just thought, "of course."

I spent a number of years navigating the fashion industry, specifically working in the management of mid-price U.S. retail. I watched companies like Forever 21—one of the fastest of the fast fashion stores—wreck the 2-cycle structure of the established, high end industry, forcing even their fast fashion competitors into increasing production cycles and decreasing time to market. This landscape changed radically and it changed quickly, with a level of agility and innovation (and fallout… but that's for another time) that has been largely unappreciated within male-dominated fields like engineering and design. Until now.

To paint a simplified picture of the industry, as I know it: relatively low-priced accessories like sunglasses and wallets are often the point of entry for new relationships between customers and brands. Higher priced accessories like shoes and bags become a manifestation of a tentative commitment, and the clothes themselves are an indication of a more permanent alignment between the person and the stories and products generated by the company. To put this in technology terms: UI is sunglasses, the most accessible piece of technology is shoes and bags, and the ecosystem is clothes.

Lower-priced accessories are important to the fashion industry, and they change style constantly. With every release cycle, the new model has to be so compelling that customers volunteer to adopt it. It has to make the old style look old, and it has to get people talking. Designers, especially designers of digital products, often work towards a Platonic ideal of classic design that can stand the test of time. In fashion, there is no ideal. There are ideas of what is timeless and classic, and those ideas (think "little black dress") are reinvented constantly.

In our line of work, a good user experience falls somewhere on a spectrum between all looks and all business, while evoking positive feelings in the user. The best UX designers try to both evoke and sustain that positive experience over time. However, until now, most people in our field have neglected the third dimension of emerging aesthetic vernacular that fashion leverages so well. To sustain a good experience means asking, often, what feels both familiar and novel, and will help people tell new stories about themselves?

I don't think it's terribly useful to draw a direct correlation between the look of iOS7 and current fashion trends, because ultimately UI is not a wallet. However, the parallels between these two industries, both so dedicated to form and function, are growing too obvious to remain unspoken. The Steve Jobs era of perfection is long over, and we're in a brave new world that's not so new: a world of fast release cycles and regularized reinvention. In both leveraging and rapidly deploying a particular aesthetic zeitgeist, Jony Ive and his team have used the visual style of the new iOS as a differentiator, as a positioning tool, and as a way to evoke feelings. Maybe some of those feelings are superiority culminating in ridicule, but as the sales numbers come in, I'm curious to see how the industry changes in response.