Convergent design

I am sure I am not the only person who has read about Apple's legal action against Samsung with some interest. Interestingly perhaps I have purchased both a Galaxy S and an iPhone 4, but I was certainly not confused about my purchase and I was certainly aware of the differences between the two phones.  Actually most people I know who know nothing about phones purchased an iPhone, those that did know something about phones made a conscious choice between primarily HTC, Apple and Samsung for the most appropriate phone for their purposes.

Now I have no real knowledge of patent law, so I do not know how much of a case Apple have, but looking at the filing there are some minor technical inaccuracies, some design decisions that I consider significantly different and of the few similarities from my perspective I believe they could easily be explained with convergent design.

Perhaps the most obvious "copy" is the green phone call icon.  Now, while you could easily claim they are so strikingly similar that there must be some copying at the same time there are design patterns at play that have long been established.

The phone silhouette is considered a standard icon, it is in one of the ISO standards as a reference icon design.  Green is obviously a go metaphor derived from traffic signals.  I believe I first saw a handset silhouette in green on a Nokia phone perhaps 15 years ago, and I doubt that phone was the first to use this symbol.  The button metaphor in icon design is so standard I am almost shocked that Apple are trying to claim it is "trade dress copying".  Rounded corners look more advanced and stylish, because they are harder to achieve, they require a higher colour depth and in essence are the natural progression.

Many of their claims feel like convergent design strategies, a phone is thin and and has curved corners because by being thin it is easy to carry and by being rounded it prevent damaging carrying devices or people.  These concepts appear obvious and good design strategies, if you can patent design at this base level it appears to me to stifle design.

There is certainly an interesting element which I had not noticed before was that Apple used a sunflower icon for their gallery and Samsung use what appears to be one or more sunflowers with a play button over the top.  Now this certainly appears a little strange, but if you look at Windows Live Photo Gallery and Windows Live movie maker they both have sunflowers.  I find this a little strange as my first though is a landscape, but as the device can be put into landscape view then what do you use as an icon to symbolise this functionality if you are using it for a gallery...well I guess convergent design appears to have lead to Sunflowers, although to my mind Microsoft and Samsung have done a better job of conveying the gallery message with the play button or the photo framing rather than the pure sunflower Apple have employed. However, is this sunflower icon not a clear indication of convergent design?

I certainly can see a huge difference in design between the icons, Apple's top down shine effect is distinctive and certainly not copied, to my mind Samsung perfectly validly say they used square icons to emphasise the touch area of an icon and the rounded corners were little more than a standard design trend to show off the available colour depth of the device.

There was one element that I found interesting that Apple were challenging Samsung on, the UI element of screen bounce when scrolling to the end of a page.  This is a great UI element, but I am not sure you can consider it patentable unless Samsung literally lifted the same code.

Additionally if a great new UI element appears surely if you achieve that same UI element using entirely new code can you really claim breach of patent...It strikes me that authors of books can claim the right to certain types of plot twist, that even though the language is different the characters, pacing, setting has changed the plot twist would be patentable and the original author could sue the new author.

Science and design progress occurs through this competition and synthesis of ideas.  It would be very difficult from the ground up to write iOS, and anyone attempting to copy it would always be behind Apple.

In the realms of convergent design.  A few years ago I designed a button for a website.  The website had several built in theme colours.  The website was quite glossy in design and the majority of visitors were running IE6 or IE7. The XP theme buttons looked a little out of place and the Classic style buttons looked positively terrible, a custom button would definitely improve the site.  I did a little experimenting and decided that as the site had several built in theme colours and customers were able to further customise this to colours of their choosing I had to have a button that was  without colour, a shade from white to black.

After trying various greys and effects I settled on a subtle white button.  Plastic effects were popular at the time and my initial design was a glossy white button, but I softened the effect as I felt it was standing out too much on the page.  I developed this in 2008 and the website was release 2009.  I noticed when running Skype 4.0 that the login button they used and the button I had created were very similar.

My button left VS Skypes button right

Essentially we had both decided on the same design independently, but I am sure someone external to this process may have assumed that my button was simple a copy of the Skype button.  Now they do have differences the button I designed used large text and had a stronger outline and darker shadow, but these are minor differences.  I do not think Skype are likely to sue me, but still the thought that a design convergence could easily be misconstrued into copying trade dress does worry me a little.


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