Seven Branding Lessons from iOS 7

Now that the pixels have settled a bit on the iOS 7 release (which, despite some early detractors, is turning out to be one of the more successful releases in the company’s history), let’s look at what all this signifies about Apple as a brand, and what branding lessons we can take away from the industry and user chatter.

  1. Change is consistency. As Jony Ive put it in the iOS 7 video, the company has always held certain core beliefs about design: in a nutshell, “It’s the whole thing.” By staying true to basic principles about what experiences should be, companies are able to adapt in ways that meet new needs and possibilities, without changing–in fact, actually reinforcing–what the company is fundamentally about. With a rock-solid core, companies can more easily change to meet customer and market needs as they develop.
  2. Founders build the foundations. Successful brands outlast the founding leaders who played an essential role in creating them. In other words, brands become the incarnation of the ideas once represented by specific individuals in the company. By standing for certain foundational principles, successful leaders provide a model for their successors to move forward in a way that will be consistent with customers’ expectations about the future of the brand.
  3. Simplicity is complicated. Once again, to quote Ive, “True simplicity is about bringing order to complexity.” While this is a widely known truth about design and user experience, the same principle holds for developing and articulating a brand. To come to a place of clarity, relevance, and differentiation in the eyes of your customers requires a great deal of communication and coordination across many groups and stakeholders. Understanding that a clear messaging and branding system requires some complex footwork behind the scenes, helps set expectations that developing a brand is much more than cleaning up a logo or thinking up a snappy tagline or message.
  4. Adding is subtracting. Though the loss of the graphical ‘realism’ elements of the previous iOS was a bit of a visual shock to some (this author included!), once one engages with the interface, the advantages of the cleaner, uncluttered look quickly become clear. Likewise, in creating brand, identity, and messaging systems, consider what you can take out as much as what you put in. As Michelangelo once said about sculpting his famous David, “I simply took out everything that wasn’t David.”
  5. Leaders can follow. While it’s been pointed out that some new iOS 7 features, like the Notification and Control Centers, have analogues in competitor products, a company’s ability to successfully incorporate the best of what’s out there in service to their customers is a virtue, not a vice. Apple itself built its early GUI on the legacy of Xerox PARC’s work in the early 1970s, and there has been far more ‘inspiration’ back and forth in the industry than may meet the eye. A confident brand accepts that there is no monopoly on good ideas.
  6. New takes time. Many years have gone by without a major change to the look and feel of the iOS interface. And a lot of hard work and effort clearly went into the design experiences and new features in iOS 7. ‘New’ doesn’t happen overnight. To be progressive, thoughtful, and thorough in your approach to developing a new brand concept or positioning, the extra time upfront in getting the basics right always pays off in the end.
  7. The brand is the interface. In much the same way as a user interface, brand perception is created by the combination of many factors and activities: every piece matters. The entire gamut of activities that connect the company to its audiences, from products to marketing to sales, from investor relations to customer service, should be governed by basic brand principles to ensure a consistent and engaging brand experience.

To sum it up: in developing effective brands, just as with designing an interface, “it’s the whole thing.” Thinking systemically, staying true to core principles, adapting in an appropriate way to change, and investing in the effort, is good branding as well as good design.

Sean Ketchem, PhD

Sean Ketchem, PhD, is a branding and content strategy consultant based in San Francisco. You can reach him at

66 thoughts on “Seven Branding Lessons from iOS 7

    1. Thanks for the compliment! I know there’s still some controversy out there about the design and software strategy, but they definitely stayed true to principles on this one.

  1. Great article. I couldn’t agree more about, “Thinking systemically, staying true to core principles, adapting in an appropriate way to change, and investing in the effort, is good branding as well as good design.” Gestalt is always the best way to approach successful design. And simplifying has always been a core value for designers. Design should never be driven by technology. Just the opposite is true.

  2. Despite all the rumors flying around that iOS7 was glitchy and made some people nauseous with the new interface, I boldly downloaded the new Apple creation. Suffice to say, I have no regrets, none of the issues that I have been hearing about came up on my device. Everything worked (and is still working) flawlessly. It did take a bit of time to get acquainted with the new look and feel, but I had no trouble at all navigating the new OS. And it doesn’t hurt that I <3 Apple!
    Well done on your blog, Sean!
    ~Juniper aka Jennifer

    1. Thanks! This is just what Ive was referring to–how to improve the experience without ‘relearning’ how to use the interface, and where that line is. I think they really pulled it off…

  3. Nice article, though I thought you should know the lemonde-journal-1 font you’re using is very difficult to read on my computer; it comes out very blurry. I had to call your Georgia fallback just to read this. I’m on Win 8 in Chrome.

    1. Thanks for the feedback–I haven’t been 100% happy with LeMonde Journal myself (I don’t really like the ligatures and kerning), but it seemed to ‘fit’ with the theme style overall. I’m considering just going back to clean Georgia, it’s good to hear feedback on what folks are seeing (not just my narrow Mac OS Safari/Chrome/Firefox view…).

    1. It’s true there’s definitely more than a bit of what is politely called ‘inspiration’–though according to the Steve Jobs biography from last year, that Android itself lifted the basic concepts, experience, and look from iOS originally was something he regarded as an even bigger theft than the famous Windows GUI spat in the early 1990s. I think it’s just part of the tech game, at the end of the day.

  4. Excellent post, Sean. I blog about brands (and Apple, very often) and marketing strategies, and you’ve really identified these aspects wonderfully. I’m especially fond of #1 – I think a big misconception (especially among my graduate students at NYU) is that “consistency” often gets misunderstood as stasis. Brilliant identification of “change” as a core brand essence of Apple.

    I’m sorry I hadn’t seen your blog earlier…really love your point of view…I’m officially a fan! (And now, a follower, too!)


    1. Thanks for the endorsement! It really is amazing how often consistency is taken to mean ‘no change’. I think it’s partly because ‘brands’ are often understood as corporate identity elements (logos, colors, and the like) that shouldn’t change arbitrarily. Consistency is about staying true to core principles: the times, the market, and consumers, of course, always change, and thus so must experiences.

  5. Personally I love ios7, I’ve had it since June but it’s true that it takes time to really appreciate the changes that were made to the operating system. I think they could have gone a little less bright on certain applications like Game Center, but that is a very minor issue.

  6. well at first i didn’t liked the ios7, To me the simple ios6 was better. But over the time i kind of grew found of it and appreciated the big change apple has made.
    and your analysis was indeed great.


  7. I think you’re trying to put lipstick on a pig. IO7 is livable, but jarring and ugly. I doubt it’s enough for people to jump ship on their Apple products, but it’s certainly a disappointment.

  8. These are all very smart points about Apple in general and about the new iOS7. I wasn’t going to upgrade right away, then I saw it on my kids’ devices and knew it was going to be better. I like your point about simplicity bringing order to complexity…so true!

  9. Appreciate this great article, Sean. It is true that more often than not, it is difficult to see the bigger picture. Simplicity is the key, but once again, that sometimes can be quite a challenge to adhere to. Up until recently, I really did not realize just how important design is in regards to simplicity and branding.

  10. Reblogged this on Imleetaylor’s Blog and commented:
    Why i <3 Apple – by the numbers…
    Sean Ketchem, WP blogger & BrandSpecialist gives a run-down on iOS7 & explains why the more things change, the more they stay the same… (building a Brand – better read this one FYi 😉

  11. great points. changed my perspective completely. already familiar with the fact that leaders do follow. but by saying leaders “can” follow, puts a more socially acceptable twist on it that i think we all should begin to embrace. id be lying to not mention how unimpressed i was with how “androidy” my update was. but i can respect their strategy now for sure.

  12. All I know is that I hate the new graphics (or lack there of). And so, in my humble opinion, despite all of the hype about security, etc., the iOS 7 is a retrograde.

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