In Detail: Mac OS X Yosemite Under The Magnifying Glass

In Detail: Mac OS X Yosemite Under The Magnifying Glass

Apple revealed a sneak peek into Mac OS X Yosemite earlier this week. Not surprisingly, Apple updated its desktop OS to match iOS 7’s design language. The new OS X now embodies a brighter and flatter styling, coupled with icon updates, font changes, and translucent materials. Here’s a quick look at the visual design changes in Yosemite and my impressions of them.

The Good

Clean Login Screen

Mac OS X Yosemite’s login screen is much cleaner and sleeker. A subtle fading animation greets the user when first logging into the new OS.

Mac OS X Yosemite’s login screen is nicely done.

Updated App Icons

Most of the new app icons look sharp and clean. Unlike the mismatched, unclear iOS 7 icons we witnessed last year, Apple managed to provide a splash of freshness to the default app icons without making them excessively bright.

The new icons in Mac OS X Yosemite.

In particular, I like the new trash can icon. Craig Federighi made a note of the time they spent refining this particular icon and the effort definitely shows.

Beautiful trash can icon.

Cleaner & Sharper Menu Bar

Many of the menu bar icons have been updated to be thinner, cleaner, and sharper. The battery icon has been updated to match the style of iOS 7. Almost every other icon has been made a hairline thinner. However, given that the new OS design styling tends towards a brighter palette, Apple made the peculiar choice of using a dark, dull blue to indicate the selected state.

The OK

Lucida Grande to Helvetica Neue

Apple updated the default system font from Lucida Grande to Helvetica Neue. Helvetica Neue default kerning is slightly tighter than Lucida Grande. So far, I have not noticed any major readability issues but I am glad Apple chose not to default to the ultra thin font-weight.

Happier Finder

Some people immediately voiced their displeasure at the new Finder icon. It is definitely a lot brighter and more cartoonish than the current icon. With the rounded eyes and curvier smile, the Finder icon looks much happier than the current one. Overall, I think the new icon is fresher, and will grow on you over time.

The happier Finder icon.

Maximise to Fullscreen

In Mac OS X Yosemite, the traffic lights have been flattened. More importantly, the green button now activates fullscreen mode. This is a departure from the current behaviour, which “toggles a window between its standard state and its user state” and is woefully inconsistent between different apps. However, I also hate going into fullscreen mode because the OS lags while transitioning the window into fullscreen. I suspect that I won’t be using that button much but if you’re a hard core single-tasker, this may be a welcome change.

Fullscreen is now the default instead of maximise.

Translucent Material

I lost track of the number of times Craig Federighi highlighted the beauty of the translucent materials used in the new OS X. I like the decision but Apple seems to be on the verge of using translucency for its own sake. I need to use the OS day to day to decide whether or not it will be distracting. My quick experience has been that it’s a nice visual addition, but not a huge game changer.

Brighter & Flatter UI Elements

Buttons, tabs, radio buttons, checkboxes, drop downs and all other UI elements have been updated to match the overall brighter and flatter design style. The visual updates are nicely done across the board. My only complaint is that the drop down UI element has coloured arrows. In every other instance besides this one, colour is used to mean active or selected. Consistency would dictate that the drop down should not be coloured either.

Current UI elements on the left vs the new UI elements on the right.

Roomier Sidebar

The new sidebar now has a 2 pixel gap between the items in each row. The additional white space is definitely an improvement. However, the selected state is now far less obvious and not as visible. Mostly because the contrast between the grey background and the white text is not great enough. I hope the final iteration changes the background of selected item back to blue, or at the very least increases the contrast.

The Bad

New Folder Icons

The new folder icons are probably the visual change that I dislike the most in the new OS. When viewed on their own, the new icons look decent. However, looking at them in context in the Finder, they appear far too bright and demand too much attention. I hope Apple tones it down before the final release.

Back/Forward Buttons

Apple appears to still be tweaking the back/forward buttons. Right now there are at least three different iterations in use. In my opinion, treating back and forward as a single pair of icons works much better than having two separate buttons.

Different iterations seen in Finder, Safari, and the Help dialog.

Safari: Out of Grid

A couple of things in the new Safari do not sit well with me. The toolbar UI elements do not fit nicely into a grid. The traffic light buttons are not perfectly middle aligned but sit somewhere between middle and top aligned. The new tab button is also quite annoying because its placement and size does not fall into a proper grid.

Another important change in the new Safari is that you only see the top level domain of the site you’re on. This change does not affect most people but I personally would like to see the full URL at all times.

The placement of UI elements in the new Safari does not sit well in a proper grid.

Search Buttons

Apple has made all the search input boxes in toolbars (including the URL address bar in Safari) look like a button instead of an input box. This makes it hard to distinguish at a glance, forcing you to second guess whether you can type in it.

Search input box looks like a button.

Goodbye, Parachute

The current AirDrop icon in OS X Mavericks has been one of my favourite icons. It is fun, cute, and represents Air-Drop really well. However, to match iOS 7, the new OS uses the “inverse wifi” icon to represent AirDrop.

There are still many rough edges in the new OS but overall I am really excited about the visual direction that Mac OS X Yosemite is taking. It demonstrates a more mature and subtle approach in adapting iOS 7 design language. No ultra thin fonts, no crazy parallax, no ridiculous icons, just subtle use of translucent materials accompanied by a bright and cheerful palette. Using the new OS feels fresher, exciting, and more modern. I am looking forward to exploring other design changes in the the new OS that I may have missed.

Lo Min Ming is the co-founder of Pixelapse, a visual version control platform for designers. He loves design, coding, photography, art, as well as fine food and drinks. He writes about design, engineering and entrepreneurship. Find him at or follow @lominming.