Back in June, Facebook bought Amsterdam software design shop Sofa. A move which caused a stir at WDDC and lead tech commentator, John Gruber, to post, “I don’t think this is the last such design talent acquisition they’re going to make. Facebook is building a serious, world-class design group”. To most, hearing that the blue behemoth was investing in European design skills was surprising. But increasingly, good design (in all its manifestations from graphics to interface) is a major differentiator in the crowded tech space.
For apps especially, where user attention span runs to the nano seconds, design can be the bridge between impulse iTunes purchase and home screen must-have. And the big players aren’t the only ones to wake up to this fact. As Khoi Vinh wrote last week in his insightful piece on “The End of Client Services”, “Many recent startups are powered by design as much as technology, because the technology has matured so greatly that the difference-maker is design. Design is playing a key part in the success of Tumblr, Instagram, Flipboard, Groupon, Kickstarter and many, many others”.
For most of the brands we work with now, especially the digital ones, our assessment process now includes an in-depth competitor analysis focused on chiclets. The app is a massively important touchpoint for brands, with the traditional logo/wordmark lockup being replaced by the chiclet symbol with the OS font below. This development to our approach, prompted Creative Director, Mat Heinl, to wonder if the logo hasn’t died, it’s just become a button.
That’s not to say that design and tech is a new partnership – but the emphasis is. Just yesterday, screen shots were leaked of Facebook’s long-awaited iPad app. The TechCrunch blogger was quick to pass comment on the look, feel and design of the app – his views highlighting just how far things have progressed from “it does this” to include “and it looks like this”. Now technology is not just for nerds and geeks – 9.25 million iPads sold worldwide – it’s no longer enough just to have great functions and features. As we all struggle to work our way through the Google+ user manual, the simplicity, clarity and joy design can bring to our everyday digital experiences has never felt more important or more relevant. As Ben Pieratt wrote recently, “[The Internet is] offering [graphic designers] a blank check and asking you to come up with something fascinating and useful that it can embrace en masse, to the benefit of everyone”. That’s some challenge and things are changing fast. Adapt or die.