UI Design Trend Cycles

A little while ago, Brent Simmons wrote about standard UI controls and their advantages in comparison to custom UI controls. This is in large part due to iOS 7, which leveled the UI design playing field last year: Where previously iOS user interfaces were expected to feature lavish graphical details such as photorealistic textures, lighting and shadows, iOS 7’s streamlined appearance reduces the necessity of a dedicated photoshop artist in UI design.

User interfaces adopting iOS 7’s new, minimal appearance look modern and fresh, whereas iOS 6 apps look dated and old fashioned in comparison. This begs one question: How long will it take until iOS 7’s appearance starts to look dated and old fashioned? Greg Cox speculates that just as standard controls and the default look & feel of iOS 7 are a useful differentiator right now, history is bound to repeat itself once the novelty of iOS 7 wears off and designers have to find new ways to differentiate:

So at some point in the cycle custom controls start to become valuable again. Apps that use them effectively will stand out and will be hard to copy. Consider the discussions about TweetBot’s famously custom UI, or the raving about Loren Brichter’s beautifully simple Letterpress design. In the latter half of the life of the original iOS design it became positively passé to rely on standard controls for your app.

Which reminds me of a theory recently put forth by Joel Unger:

Design ecosystems mimic biological ecosystems: Whenever a new trend takes hold or an old one reemerges in the world of design, patterns emulate competitive systems in nature. Resource-intensive adaptations often achieve substantial competitive advantages.