Friday, October 30, 2020

More Big Sur UI Refinements

Riccardo Mori:

As I was saying before, I expected the first betas to be a rough design sketch, bound to be drastically improved upon (not simply refined) from beta release to beta release. Instead, all visual changes at the UI level so far have been surprisingly restrained. You may think, Well, that’s a good sign. It means that Apple really believes in this redesign. In a sense, it’s true. Apple believes to be doing good work with Big Sur’s user interface. They have a plan and they’re demonstrating they’re willing to stick with it. That doesn’t mean it’s a great plan, though.

No matter how hard Apple tries to spin it, when I’m using Big Sur, I’m not feeling that the reasoning behind all these UI changes was Let’s take the great Mac OS user interface we’ve been perfecting for years and make it better. What I feel, instead, is that behind this user interface redesign there was one simple major directive that came from above: Make it look more like iOS.


The transparency of menu listings has also been reduced over time: Beta 10 here is slightly less transparent than even Beta 8. And the selected menu name in the menu bar is more prominent (the background behind the text is darker).

System Preferences now shows more slices of dynamic desktops.


Update (2020-11-07): Daniel Martín:

If you don’t like Big Sur’s new title style and want to revert to how it looks in Catalina:

defaults write -g NSWindowSupportsAutomaticInlineTitle -bool false

and relaunch Finder.

Update (2020-11-20): Nick Heer:

I have some thoughts on overarching themes and trends in Apple’s operating systems that I want to more carefully consider. But I wanted to share some brief observations on Big Sur’s design direction that, I think, feel suited to a bulleted list. I have been using betas of Big Sur since they were released in June, and have used the final release candidate since yesterday. If you have yet to install the update, I think Andrew Cunningham’s review at Ars Technica and Stephen Hackett’s screenshot library are excellent resources if you would like to follow along.


Alas, the vast majority of UI elements in Big Sur have far poorer contrast than Catalina. Many toolbar elements have either entirely no background or a very subtle one.


Big Sur is a victim of Apple’s current preoccupation with hiding things that only become visible when hovering.

Brena Andring:

Find you someone who looks at you the way Craig Federighi looks at Big Sur 🤣

Update (2021-01-04): Mario A Guzmán:

Re: NSToolbar in Big Sur. I get the new design is so new, so “clean” but it’s just not useful. I spend more time looking at each icon making sure I click the right one, especially if labels are turned off by default.

Update (2021-01-05): David Sparks:

I have received more email about confusion over the active app in the few months since Big Sur was released. Big Sur is brighter, and figuring out which window is active is more difficult than it ever has been before.

12 Comments RSS · Twitter

"Make it look more like iOS." Perhaps. The biggest thing that struck me from the first beta was the adoption of padding in many elements, the purpose of which (in iOS) is touch affordance.

So is the broader plan just to make macOS appear more like iOS, or is it working towards touch macOS???

In either case, the loss of usable interface space is a kind of "dumbing-down" for higher-end user, at least.

You gotta be patient. Apple doesn't roll back design changes in betas. Only really glaring bugs, and often not even those.

iOS 7 was pretty wild, and it wasn't fixed by iOS 7.1. The worst of it was mitigated by iOS 8 / 9 / 10 / 11.

Mac OS X Cheetah had obnoxious transparency and pinstripes, and it wasn't fixed by Cheetah updates. It got better in Puma, Jaguar, and Panther.

macOS Big Sur is what it is. It looks like a rough draft, just like 10.0, and 10.7. If you don't like it, you just gotta wait for macOS 11.1 "Uncontrollable Wildfires".

Sam is spot on. There's a pattern of Apple radically changing the theme, then toning it down after a few years. It's not great (because, in the meantime, we have a flawed style), but it's not new.

Agree with Graham Dawson. With all that padding added throughout the UI in Big Sur, I’m anticipating eventual touchscreen Macs.

>macOS Big Sur is what it is. It looks like a rough draft, just like 10.0, and 10.7. If you don't like it, you just gotta wait for macOS 11.1 "Uncontrollable Wildfires".

Uh oh. I hoped to just skip Catalina but now is the big question: How to skip 2 macOS Versions, not start with a dot-zero Version and get the Security Updates for the old Version? Seems to be undoable.

The next Version will be macOS 12 "Uncontrollable Wildfires, not 11.1.

Lack of confidence in Big Sur's design, combined with Apple's inability to ship stable maintenance updates in the meantime, are what finally pushed me to start using Windows full-time.

As for design, I have no idea what benefits we're getting in exchange for the removal of affordances and contrast. This summer I read through an 80s version of the Apple HIG, and it's kinda striking how different they are from today's guidelines. I'm all for changing things if the change is for the better, but 7 years into Apple's flat UI era, they've yet to make a convincing argument why it's better than what came before.

For example, Apple's core tenet of their current UI is 'deference to content', but is that really a good design goal to have? Isn't the point of a computer to have tools to work on your content? Why is it desirable for the visibility of the tools to recede into obscurity, when the tools are the whole point of the computer? The old Apple HIG had a bibliography... maybe it would help if Apple 'showed their work'?

As for stability, I am still several security updates behind on my Mojave system, because pretty much every security update this year has broken something significant. I'm never quite sure when or if the issues get fixed.

It was one thing where you could avoid the .0 release and wait for things to stabilize, but now the stability never comes. Every point release has new features in a .0 state, and even pure maintenance/security releases break stuff now. I've lost nearly all trust in Apple's ability to ship stable software.

While Windows is far from perfect, at least I get things in exchange for that imperfection: Control over hardware choices, much more affordable hardware ($1,000 vs $9,000 for the performance tier I am looking for), the ability to play some games, and developing for a much larger platform that has much lower barrier to entry, which is more aligned with the kind of software I want to make.

I’ve been on Mojave for two years now, regularly applying security and other updates, and haven’t had any stability problems. I’m fact, for me it’s been an excellent and reliable OS version. Maybe you have a problem with your system?

2019-001 had a data loss bug due to a botched BridgeOS update

2020-02 caused kernel panics whenever certain Intel GPU-equipped Macs tried to encode video (right when many people had to switch to virtual meetings and classes). No word if this was ever fixed.

2020-05 introduced glaring issues with memory management, the menu bar, and some apps

These should be the most rock-solid updates, but several had to be pulled because of how bad the problems were. Other times, people just had to just live with the problems until (hopefully) the next update fixes things.

I’ve also been on Mojave since the black mini introduction. I started off with many issues, and eventually wrapped up a several month apple-support ticket proving all of my issues, none ever solved. In a nutshell, Mojave wants/needs perpetual access to an open internet connection to do whatever it wants. The presence of an ethernet connection that does not reach the internet causes failure after failure. Those (like me) who give my mac occasional and brief access to the internet based on MY needs, instead of Apple’s needs, do indeed encounter problems. I suspect the team in Cupertino has excellent and perpetual internet access. This internet-hunger worsened in Catalina and will likely be even worse as time moves on.

@Bernd: You can skip as many versions as you want. There are people running really old operating systems still! Pretty much the only limiting factor is being able to run a modern web browser, but if you've got a smartphone you might not even care about that.

@remmah: Apple isn't going to "show their work". The Macintosh project has from the start been an exercise in the sacred, not the profane. You might as well ask Hair Force One to open WWDC by talking about the brand of conditioner he uses.

The 1995 Apple HIG had a 14-page annotated bibliography that highlighted a lot of the academic work that informed the classic Macintosh UI and UX. Apple's current HIG make no such appeal to science or past experience. There is a section in the current HIG for Marketing Imagery however...

I'm normally on board with new OS changes and happy to go wherever Apple wants to take us, but this is the first MacOS where I want to downgrade (though I won't since I'm not that stubborn). The two main culprits are notifications and Spotlight, both of which I use constantly and are so much worse I can't forget about it.

Notifications are so hard and slow to manage with the disappearing close button, actions hidden behind a disappearing menu, a finicky swipe gesture, etc. And Spotlight just shows a bunch of web searches instead of the files or apps I'm looking for; and it doesn't seem like there's a way to disable it or put content I actually want at the top.

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