iOS 7 beta 3 came out this morning with a surprisingly major change: as I first saw reported by Sebastiaan de With and later more specificially identified by Neven Mrgan, the system font has allegedly been changed from Helvetica Neue Light to Helvetica Neue (regular).1 Compare:
It’s a subtle change in theory, but it has a huge effect — see for yourself. This paragraph is in Helvetica Neue Light if you’re on a device that has the Helvetica Neue family. (If not, you probably don’t care about fonts, so it will be Comic Sans.)
It’s a subtle change in theory, but it has a huge effect — see for yourself. This paragraph is in Helvetica Neue if you’re on a device that has the Helvetica Neue family. (If not, you probably don’t care about fonts, so it will be Comic Sans.)
See? Light weights look cool (moreso at larger sizes) and work well in advertising and logos, but are generally harder to read. The system font’s most important job is to be legible to as many people as possible in as many conditions as possible, so the previous choice was simply a bad design choice.
It represented one of Apple’s biggest recurring flaws: letting cool come before functional.2 With Ive’s new role leading UI design, I was afraid that we were in for a long series of such failures. And with iOS 7 being unveiled so publicly and confidently, I really didn’t think any decisions as significant as the system font would change before release.
Now, we know otherwise.
Apple’s stated design philosophy of iOS 7 was “clarity, deference, and depth”. They nailed deference and depth, but clarity has suffered in many big and small ways.
While the too-thin font was far from the only design flaw in iOS 7, I’d say it was the biggest. Just as the new APIs in iOS 7 were clearly the result of Apple listening to all of us, we now have a sign that they’re listening on the design front as well.
The best thing for us to do is to continue to make noise about the remaining issues.