Saturday, July 26, 2014

Sidebar Translucency in Yosemite

Neven Mrgan:

Translucency in 10.10 is gross with fullscreen apps (which I dig). What does that blotchy, blurry sidebar “show” me?

This seems like an endless cycle with Apple. Introduce a new appearance that values form over function, one that in many cases it doesn’t even look good, unconvincingly try to justify it as useful, gradually tone it down over the releases, and eventually add a new horror. We’ve seen this movie before. Can’t we just skip the first several steps?

8 Comments

Not all form has a practical purpose/function; sometimes the purpose of a design is aesthetic or branding-related (e.g., visual differentiation). These are important aspects of any UX and are not "form over function" necessarily.

In this case, the translucency creates an illusion of depth that contrasts nicely with the flatness of some of the other new UI elements. The depth also creates subtle window-position cues if you have multiple windows open over each other, which visually oriented learners/users will probably find helpful. (If we went strictly by the needs of coding crew living on the command line or in text editors all day, OS X would look like a Linux distro.) In addition, the translucency allows subtle color hints from your desktop image to percolate up and through your sidebars, so each user actually controls those color hints for their entire system simply in the choice of desktop image. I would thus submit that if your sidebars look ugly to you, it's because you need a different desktop image more suited to your taste.

That said, there are two issues. First, if translucency impedes legibility as it currently does in some toolbars and headings, it shouldn't be there. Legibility is paramount. Second, it might be nice for translucency to function slightly differently (or be tweakable) in full-screen mode--although here as well, the percolation of colors up from the desktop is an aesthetic quality that the user can control with a better choice of desktop image.

Anyway, it's important to remember that aesthetics and visually branding *are* a functional element of any UX and that translucency in the sidebars isn't just pointless bling. Certainly in Apple's case, function routinely takes a back seat to form often simply to be more elegant.

"Certainly in Apple's case, function routinely takes a back seat to form often simply to be more elegant."

Methinks "elegant" is most definitely not the correct word choice there...

@Simon Yes, legibility is paramount. I don’t think we have to choose form or function. The Mac OS X window shadows have both, for example. In the case of the sidebars, I think they impede function and are ugly, even with Apple’s default desktop image.

The problem with Yosemite is that it apparently (*) is a reboot of the translucent franchise. As if a new guy was put in charge of the design of OS X UI and did not remember why translucency has been reduced versions after versions.

* I'm using the word "apparently" because, of course, the UI is under NDA, and nobody would be able to figure out publicly whether there's a ton of new pointless translucency and animations in Yosemite compared to previous versions.

I thought I'd hate the translucency more than I do. It's *so* blurred that it's not distracting and acts more to give one a sense of color for ones screen than anything else. This isn't the translucency of Vista that I feared it would be.

[…] If I’m complaining less, it’s only because I’ve lost hope that Apple is ever going to make legibility a priority. Retina displays are not yet widely available on Macs. Even where they are, Apple has found ways to reduce legibility. […]

[…] Edit: There's some discussion here. […]

I hate the translucent windows. They are ugly and useless.
Fortunately, you can get rid of them with the Display Preferences in Accessability
Just put a checkmark on "Reduce Transparancy".

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