Apple's Inconsistent Aesthetic

James Higgs writes an interesting article about the inconsistencies of Apple’s aesthetic. In one corner you have Apple’s sublime and minimal industrial design where every corner or radii has been considered.

These devices have become increasingly simple and pared down, even as the power contained in them has increased. There is very little, if anything, extraneous on the Magic Trackpad or the MacBook Air. And of course the iPhones 4 and 4S are radically simple, yet well-constructed masterpieces of industrial design.

Then in the other corner you have a number of craptastic over-styled iOS apps and Mac graphical interfaces such as faux leather on the Calendar App, or Game Center’s green Casino table (with the token flags) etc.

Still fewer have a chuckle when they see the new Address Book app on Mac OS X Lion, or the even more recent Find My Friends iPhone app.
These apps, and many more besides, all stem from a completely different, and I would say opposite aesthetic sensibility than the plain devices they run on.
They are an expression of purest kitsch, sentimentality, and ornamentation for its own sake. In Milan Kundera’s brilliant defintion, kitsch is “the absolute denial of shit”. These are Disney-like apps, sinister in their mendacity.
The newly popular word for this type of design is “skeuomorphism”. Strictly speaking it means retaining design features from earlier designs when those features previously had a specific reason for being that way, but do not any longer. A good example would be iPad synthesizer apps that include “knobs” that you can “turn”, or “cables” that you can “plug in”.

No one but Apple knows if this was an intentional tug on what our minds are familiar with, or a sign that there is no centralize style guide or creative direction at Apple. We can, however, learn a few things from this.
Firstly you don’t have to be perfect to be considered the best. Next you also don’t have to be perfect to be loved by everyone. And finally you only have to be perfect where it counts, so make your decisions and pick your battles.

  • Marc-Oliver

    December 11, 2011 at 3:04 am Reply

    I disagree: The only consistency it takes theses days is: Joy of Use. Apple does a great job with that. Every design decision supports that mantra.

  • denise lee yohn

    November 7, 2011 at 7:42 am Reply

    this post resonates with me as i absolutely hate the design of the ipod nano — i have one in order to use the nike+ system while running and the product design and u.i. is completely incompatible for a runner — and yet i’m willing to overlook the shortcomings because of the equity the brand has built with me in the past. the company has clearly “picked its battles” and while it’s lost me on this one, it’s still winning the war. — denise lee yohn

  • Mike Han

    November 1, 2011 at 6:55 pm Reply

    I believe, apple’s design comes from the thought that device shouldn’t interfere with the experience of the application. While the design of hardware has remained minimalistic to reduce the fiction of design, it’s easy to understand when Calendar or Find My Friends app didn’t use the same minimalistic approach to deliver experience.

  • Aizat Arifin

    November 1, 2011 at 2:41 am Reply

    I think the marriage between Apple hardware and Ubuntu software will be perfect in terms of their design direction.

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