Monday, May 27, 2013

Bucking the Anti-Skeuomorphic Trend: Yahoo Weather App Icon

Habitually I always scan the developer’s update description text before updating any apps on my iPhone. So that I have a sense of any new functionality and features when I next use the app. Mostly when I see a one-line description it is that most generic of updates: “Important bug fixes”. However last Saturday this particular one-line description caught my eye: “Improved app icon.” While it is rare to see an app update that addresses only one specific issue, it is rarer still to see one that solely addresses a marketing issue.

The original purple icon from April 2013.
Yahoo launched its weather app for iOS last April. A well-designed and well-regarded app, it was another important signifier of the corporate turnaround activities of new CEO Marissa Mayer as she began to reinvigorate the moribund tech giant. The functionality and UI of this app made me adopt it as my default weather app on my home screen. It deposed Solar, which I have previously praised on this blog.

My only reservation about Yahoo’s new app was its poorly-designed icon, which did not reflect the attention to detail given to the rest of the design. Arguably the initial icon was designed within the – currently much-discussed conventions – of ‘flat design’. It was a simplified symbol of a sun appearing behind an equally simplified symbol of a cloud, both on a graduated background of the Yahoo corporate purple colour. While that garish shade of purple was easily sufficient to communicate the Yahoo-iness of the product, someone had made a belt-and-braces decision and included a full width Yahoo logotype as well. The failures of this initial icon design demonstrate some of the difficulties of executing such flat design with skill. If flat design is attempted without due consideration and finesse then the overall effect can easily appear both under-designed and out-dated. I was not the only one noticing the shortfall of the icon design. Many of the initial reviews of the app drew attention to that fact, which is not an issue commonly referred to in product reviews on the technology sites. Prominent tech bloggers also had strong opinions as well.

The updated icon from May 2013.
Yahoo have taken the negative feedback and acted in it. As I noted above, the updated app that shipped this weekend had only one upgrade: a new icon sharing the successful bright blue colour scheme used by Apple’s Safari and App Store icons. The job previously done by the corporate purple is now solely handled by the large Yahoo logotype at the top. (Watch that logo get smaller in future app iterations.) A photo of a cloud now replaces the original sun and cloud graphic. As well as being more aesthetically pleasing this choice of design treatment is far more true to the product, given that the app integrates with Yahoo’s Flickr service to place evocative location-specific photos behind the weather data.

Given current media conversations about the resurgence in appreciation of the value of design by businesses, I cannot help but wonder whether Yahoo are choosing to make a deliberate statement regarding design by pushing this upgrade now without waiting to simply include the revised icon within a future release based on feature enhancements.

As a parting thought, it is worth asking yourself how much thinking and effort are you putting into the design of the icon for your app?