Wednesday, March 24, 2021 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Big Sur’s Gray Menu Keyboard Shortcuts

Dr. Drang:

The M1 MacBook Air is the only machine I have running Big Sur, and for the first few days I kept wondering why certain commands were disabled. They weren’t—I was confused about their status because the gray keyboard shortcut was catching my eye and the black command name wasn’t. It wasn’t until I slowed down and looked at the menus carefully that I noticed the contradictory text coloring.

I’ve been using Macs since 1985, and gray text in a menu item has always meant “disabled.” This was true even though early Macs didn’t have true gray. Among Mac users, “grayed out” is a synonym for “disabled” and has been for ages. Now, because looking cool is taking precedence over clear communication, we have menu items that tell us the command is available but the keyboard shortcut isn’t.

Nick Heer:

The presentation of keyboard shortcuts is in that same vein: by making them grey, the thinking presumably went, the command becomes more prominent and indicates availability, while the keyboard shortcut is still shown for those who need it. But is this a problem that needs solving? Are even the pickiest designers bothered by the apparent clutter of keyboard shortcuts in menus? If you want to consider it a problem, this solution means that the keyboard shortcut is hard to read and the meaning of grey text is ambiguous.

Oh, and for extra measure, it is compounded by physical keyboards that do not share the same markings.

Jason Snell:

I always sensed that something was wrong in Big Sur’s menus, but I thought it was the strange decision to have curved edges on the top portions of the drop-down, which breaks the metaphor that they’re connected to the solid edge of the menu bar. But graying out (and that is absolutely what I call it) keyboard shortcuts is also weird and wrong.

Previously:

1 Comment

Big Sur has many UI problems. A few of my most frustrating:
- seas of white! I often have to spend a few seconds figuring out which Safari window is active and which tab I’m looking at. In some apps I’m still failing to click in to text fields because they’re difficult to differentiate from the background.
- Alerts that mimic iOS. Alerts on iOS are vertically stacked with a title first followed by details and then buttons. This makes sense because of the horizontal space constraint. On the Mac the horizontal constraint isn’t a problem and yet we now have an icon as the first element and the width constrained to be an unnecessarily narrow both of which make the alerts harder to comprehend.
- Moving toolbars. Sidebars now extend the whole height of a window and occupy the space that previously was given to the toolbar. This means that when resizing the sidebar the items in the toolbar move around making it harder to form muscle memory. I find this especially annoying in Xcode because the target and device moves around (I have a 13” MacBook Pro and resize the sidebar depending on which panel I’m using).

What I find most concerning is that, unlike the rushed iOS7 redesign, the Big Sur redesign has lots of little flourishes that suggest these changes are well considered. For example, when resizing a window the toolbar items now animate when collapsing. Big Sur seems like an intentional move in prioritising trendy, superficial design over long understood, principled design.

Stay up-to-date by subscribing to the Comments RSS Feed for this post.

Leave a Comment