Think Bigger: Design Changes in iOS 11

Zack Simon

4 min read

Jun 19, 2017

Think Bigger: Design Changes in iOS 11

Recent versions of iOS have reimagined the design for several of Apple’s platform apps, as Apple Music and News were among the first to adopt big titles, rounded card-like UI and filled buttons. Apple pushes these changes even further in iOS 11 by making them the norm for the platform. With these changes, Apple is further aligning the latest version of iOS with the core themes established in iOS 7: clarity, deference to content and a sense of depth.

The changes introduced in iOS 11 are a natural evolution of the platform to better serve users. As designers and developers, we need to reevaluate our own apps to make sure that they conform with the new design language of iOS in order to meet user expectations.

Improving Clarity

iOS 7 delivered aesthetic improvements, but also introduced a lack of clarity, particularly when it came to visual hierarchy and interactive elements. The dramatic shift in this design language required users learn the UI without the crutch of skeumorphism. Users now had to discern borderless buttons from text views and establish what each flat piece of UI did without any hints.

Since then, the iOS design language has evolved to improve on these issues. Apple has expanded its design lexicon by improving the experience of Apple Music and News. iOS 11 pushes this language to be used globally on the platform: the App Store redesign is a model for the community to do the same.

App Store in iOS 11 at WWDC Keynote

More than ever, iOS advocates for visual hierarchy and accessibility through use of typography. The large option for screen titles now allows designers to better communicate the difference between a top-level screen and its children to a user who otherwise may not know where they are in the navigation hierarchy.

In addition, the three Title type styles in iOS now use the Regular weight of San Fransisco Display instead of the Light weight meaning that, even by default, titles are more readable and noticeable. Furthermore, Dynamic Type APIs now allow apps to leverage crucial Dynamic Type accessibility features even while using a custom font. All of these changes help better enable designers to lean on the platform’s offerings in order to create clear, accessible designs.

iOS also now advocates for a new, more unified rounded aesthetic. Cards, buttons and iconography all prescribe to rounded corners allowing for a softer, friendlier visual design. Buttons and content items, like cards, use rounded corners, which give users a sense of these being selectable. Generally, filled buttons are now used throughout the UI instead of outlined or borderless buttons, which create a more clear call to action. In addition, iconography is now filled instead of outlined, and icons that still use outlines now have an increased weight to allow for better readability. While some of these are subtle, these changes help users understand how to better interact with iOS.

Previous iOS vs iOS 11 tab icons

These changes represent improvements in accessibility, wayfinding and general tone for the OS. In iOS 11, a user can see where they are with a large title, identify content in visually organized cards and find a clear call to action through big, filled buttons. This deeply expressed clarity furthers Apple’s vision in iOS 7 by instilling trust in users that they can successfully understand and navigate iOS with little doubt.

Reorganizing and Streamlining

One less obvious point that Apple made in their recent keynote is that it’s okay to reevaluate how you organize and show content. In the newly redesigned App Store, the primary navigation now divides content by what most users are looking for when they visit the App Store. Games and apps are now separted in the tab bar instead of both being found throughout multiple tabs. Daily content and discovery is streamlined in the Today tab.

All of these changes signify that content should be structured based on user needs instead of what we as developers want users to do. Most importantly, Apple, through example, is stating that it’s perfectly acceptable to change, especially if you’re changing to meet user expectations.

What Now?

Adopt the design language early. It’s important to be consistent with the design language of a platform because users already have a relationship with it. By adhering to the new iOS design language, you’re allowing your users the advantage of already understanding how your app works, because they know how to use the platform. With the improvements in accessibility and aesthetics in iOS 11, there are plenty of reasons to get on board.

Clear a path to your user’s goal. The Music app now defaults to the user’s library. The App Store now lets users quickly find apps, games and what’s new today. These changes came out of usage activity, which makes for a good lesson. You should make it a priority to shorten the user’s journey from entry to goal. Take stock of your content, identify what your users actually want when they use your app and reorganize your architecture to make that journey simple and coherent. Make it easy for the user to do what you want them to do.

At Big Nerd Ranch, we’ve already begun working these design changes into our client projects as we prepare for the public launch of iOS 11 in September. If your company needs to get your apps ready for the launch, get in touch. We’d be happy to work with you to take advantage of these improvements and ensure that your users receive the experience they expect.

Learn more about why you should update your apps for iOS 11 before launch day, or download our ebook for a deeper look into how the changes affect your business.

Zack Simon

Author Big Nerd Ranch

Zack is an Experience Director on the Big Nerd Ranch design team and has worked on products for companies ranging from startups to Fortune 100s. Zack is passionate about customer experience strategy, helping designers grow in their career, and sharpening consulting and delivery practices.

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