Literature & Latte

The Mac Monochrome Trend – A Plea For Keeping Things Colourful

By KB, posted 02 March 2012

On Twitter today, someone posted some mock-up screenshots of their ideas for improving Scrivener’s interface:

http://dribbble.com/joostvanderree/projects/42516-Scrivener-UI-concept

(In his own words: “Based on the Scrivener. It’s an app with great functionality for storytellers. UI could be improved in my opinion. This is my approach.”)

Everyone has their own opinion about this or that UI, because visual appeal is entirely subjective. So, I’m not going to dissect these mockups; they are undeniably attractive, he’s clearly a talented UI designer, and it’s flattering that someone would be interested in Scrivener enough to spend time mocking up their own UI ideas. It’s also useful for me, because I get to see a different approach and think about it. I would say that the result isn’t very much like Scrivener, in that it doesn’t convey any of Scrivener’s core concepts beyond the corkboard (and throws in elements that wouldn’t work in Scrivener at all), as the designer himself admitted on Twitter; and, in my humble not-very-designer-y opinion, it also suffers from a problem you often see when a UI is considered purely from an aesthetic perspective with less regard for what the user actually wants to do with the program, in that it allows for very little data on the screen – you wouldn’t be able to get much of an overview of your writing on an 11″ screen with that UI as it stands. These aren’t criticisms of the artist, though – he was clearly just playing with ideas for his own ideal UI, and there are certain aspects of his design that I like. Over all, it looks very pretty and modern, in an iOS kind of way.

As much as I enjoyed looking at these mockups, though, they have reminded me of one thing I dislike greatly in many recent Apple UIs – monochrome icons. I will be striving to keep monochrome icons out of Scrivener for as long as possible. This was a trend introduced in Lion, as part of Lion’s attempt to be more iOS-like. Anyone using Lion will have noticed this trend – you can see it in the Finder, Mail and Preview, among other Apple programs. As of Lion, all the toolbar icons and all of the source list icons in these programs are solid grey – all colour has been drained away.

I’m going to take a wild guess that half of the people who read this will agree with me that the new grey icons are really annoying, and the other half will think, “So what? The new minimalist look is much smarter, less gaudy, and you can still easily tell the icons by the shape.” And I’d agree with the first part: at first glance, these programs do look a little smarter, a little less fussy. Monochrome looks good. The trouble is that, sometimes, making something look more coherent and better as whole can come at the expense of the unique functionality of its components.

As Joni Mitchell sang, you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone (although in all fairness she was talking about trees rather than colours in icons, and I’d concede that trees might be a little more important). When Apple decided to drain the icons in these programs of their colour, I learned something about the way my brain works that I hadn’t hitherto ever had to think about: my brain is an awful lot faster at processing colours than it is at processing shapes. This makes sense – I’ve never been very good with faces, for instance. Whilst I don’t have full-on prosopagnosia, there have been times when I’ve been talking to someone I know only in passing, unsure of whether the person I am speaking to is Bob or Jeff – because both Bob and Jeff wear the same brown corduroy jacket, NHS glasses and brown hair (names changed to protect the Morrissey lookalikes).

It also makes sense, I suppose, that just as some people are colour-blind, some people won’t be as quick at processing shapes in particular contexts. But what this means is that, since installing Lion, I spend a lot more time poring over the sidebar in the Finder and the icons in Mail’s toolbar looking for something I could find at a glance in earlier versions of OS X. I thought I’d get used to it, but I haven’t. Even a year later, I often click on “Get Mail” instead of “New Message” in Mail. In the Finder, I have found that I no longer even look at the icons in the sidebar: because my brain can process the words more quickly than it can the colourless icons, I just read the items in the list instead. The same in Mail – but with multiple email accounts resulting in the same titles in different places, I frequently find myself in the “Sent” list when I meant to be in the “Drafts” list. Before Lion, quickly finding the sidebar folder I wanted in the Finder was easy: I subconsciously found the Downloads folder by looking for a splash of green, the Documents folder by looking for mostly white, the Applications folder for sticks of brown. I didn’t consciously look for a colour: I just looked at the sidebar and my eyes were drawn towards the icon I was looking for. I didn’t know it was the colour that guided my eyes until after the colour had been removed and I found myself having to read the titles.

Yes, this is pretty much the definition of a “first world problem”, but it’s still one we have to think about as we continue to enhance and improve Scrivener and ensure its UI remains modern. And the simple fact is that an icon has a single job: to represent a feature of the program in a simplified pictorial form that can be immediately recognised by the user. How is this achieved? The icon designer has two main tools at his or her disposal: shape and colour. And while we may disagree about what makes an attractive or ugly icon, because aesthetics are very subjective (some users hate the Scrivener application icon, others love it; Ioa hates the tone of green used in the “Add” icon in Scrivener’s toolbar, but the palette is borrowed from iWork and I rather like it), shape and colour are the only information an icon can contain, and it is from that information that we ascertain meaning. An icon succeeds if we can find it quickly when we need it, at only a glance; it fails if we have to compare it carefully to the icons around it to discern its meaning, or if we have to read its title. With only 32×32 pixels to play with for the largest icons, getting this right is difficult enough; I have thus always been baffled by the decision by Apple – renowned, rightly, for its UI expertise – to remove half of the information (i.e. colour) from many of its icons and therefore make them a lot less readable to potentially half of its user base.

I know I’m not the only one to feel this way – I’ve spoken to a couple of other people who find icons difficult to read without colour, too – but are we in the minority? I’d be interested to know if other users have similar problems with these monochrome icons, or whether it is a complete non-issue for most people. Imagine, for instance, that all of the icons in Scrivener’s binder were grey – you’d no longer be able to pick out a PDF file by its red header bar, or the Research folder by its maroon border. I’d find that difficult, and so I’ll be resisting this trend for as long as possible, if only for my own sake. And I would beg Apple and other UI designers not to kill the colour in their icons, and to spare a thought for those of us who are a little shape-blind.

40 Comments

  1. Richard
    Posted 02 March 2012 at 15:13 | Permalink

    Agreed: I can remember how excited I was to see the multicolor Apple logo in the menu of the Mac II, and I love having color in the UI. In my case (that of a developer) I like having colors show me state, and they’re something I can track in my peripheral vision. With monochrome icons, I have to do more work to distinguish things.

  2. Lukas
    Posted 02 March 2012 at 15:13 | Permalink

    I think in UI design, consistency is the most important thing. And it’s easier to design across a platform (OS X, iOS) from a specific color palette, than it is to design from a shape paradigm.

    The end result of this is that when app developers want to deliver an experience that seems familiar to the native OS, they adhere to whatever standards have already been set, rather than their own dedication to (in this case) minimalism.

    For me, I like color. I agree that it’s an easier attractor for the eyes. Have you ever used Calibre? It’s wonderful software, but, in my opinion, it’s got one of the worst icon sets around. The icons are colorful, but lack relative proportion, aesthetic. In that case, I would far prefer a drained but uniform experience.

    Bringing this back to Scrivener, I like the color and the palette, but I can see issues with design metaphor. For instance, the Binder Icon is of a notebook with tabs on the side, an interface we don’t actually see within the App. On the other hand, the Keywords Icon shows a graphic representation of the window. Maintaining design consistency might have meant that just the Key was the icon.

    Another visual inconsistency in Scrivener is the bottom bar. The icons at the bottom of the binder and at the bottom of the inspector seem to come from different aesthetic principles, and the “open in external editor” button is the only button at all with any color.

    I didn’t mean to turn this post into a rant about Scrivener. I love Scrivener to death, and I’ve seen the App go wonderful places over the years. I look forward to Scrivener 3 more than I do the iPad 3. I only criticize because I care.

  3. Posted 02 March 2012 at 15:30 | Permalink

    Thank you for the (fast) replies; I’m glad it’s not just me. And damn you Lukas for making such good points and bringing those inconsistencies to my attention! I have copied your comments into the .scriv project in which I keep all my 3.0 notes, so that I can look at at addressing those. I do think monochrome icons work well in secondary UI elements such as smaller header and footer bars, or navigation bars, where you don’t want them to clash with the colours in the toolbars and source lists. Older versions of MS Word (and Word on Windows still) had the opposite problem in that there were too many colourful icons so that you didn’t know where to look. There’s definitely a fine balance that needs striking, but omitting colour entirely is hugely problematic for me. Regarding design consistency on the Keywords icon, by the way, I wanted that icon to fit in among the full screen (Compose) and QuickRef icons, and we took our design queue from Pages and other Apple apps, which also mixes metaphors a little in that regard. You’re entirely right, though.

  4. Posted 02 March 2012 at 16:11 | Permalink

    I totally agree that the monochrome icons are much harder to parse. I work all day, every day on my mac and installed Lion on release and I still notice myself pausing on the finder icons. Same I think for the overly subtle gray scroll bars. Less useful than the blue ones.

  5. Danny
    Posted 02 March 2012 at 16:20 | Permalink

    Agreed. Even with only three distinct icons for the buttons in Android 4.0, I often find myself hitting home when I wanted to use the Recent Apps key. There is definitely something to be said about aesthetics and the pure joy of working with a UI because it looks great. I agree, it is a fine line.

  6. Posted 04 March 2012 at 00:36 | Permalink

    I partly disagree. Having a more toned down interface makes it possible to really draw attention to small notifiers, such as icon badges. Now, Apple doesn’t really take advantage of this in iOS and Lion, since badges are often also in greyscale, but I still think keeping the permanent parts of the UI monochrome is a good idea.

  7. Posted 04 March 2012 at 10:36 | Permalink

    I fully agree with Keith on this one. The monochrome look made me switch from Mail.app to Postbox, from Reeder (back) to NetNewsWire. It’s my main gripe with both CaptureOne and MediaPro – all apps I use all day, every day, so I should got used to the button layout. But I’m not; I rely on colours to distinguish functionalities, not shape or location alone.

    I don’t want a candy store-like GUI; I prefer a UI that uses colours to effect, not as a special effect. I really hope more devs will include a “colour” option to preferences, similar to Apple’s provided choice between “graphite” and “blue”.

  8. Rob
    Posted 05 March 2012 at 16:43 | Permalink

    I lament the lack of colour in Lion. As I see it, there are three indicators enabling users to quickly decide which icon to click. Position (on screen), shape and colour.

    I don’t understand why losing one of those visual cues can be an advantage.

  9. Posted 05 March 2012 at 17:02 | Permalink

    Joost van der Ree’s graphics are appealing, but I like the focus to be on what I’m working on, not the container it’s in.

    I appreciate Scrivener’s efficient use of my screen real estate. And color. I color-code lots of things in my physical and virtual worlds.

  10. Chris
    Posted 05 March 2012 at 17:34 | Permalink

    I completely agree! Lion has been improved in some very serious wrong ways, and it is a shame Apple forgot how perception works.

  11. Mark
    Posted 05 March 2012 at 17:36 | Permalink

    Steve Jobs once responded to an email complaint lamenting the lack of color in iTunes. He said that it was designed to make it easier to focus on your content. Of course, this argument breaks down when you consider that the Finder sidebar is a list of your most-used content, so it should be easy to differentiate between them.

    Personally, I can adapt if the icons are a different shape. It is when they are all grey rectangles that I have difficulty. I hated the previous pill buttons for this reason, even though they had color.

  12. Posted 05 March 2012 at 17:39 | Permalink

    I have no problems with the colors, and I do think it makes it easier to see the icons. But then my issue with icons has never been their shape or color but their size. I prefer very small icons so as to minimize their visual distraction; as a result, I find it does help to have them colorful. When they are large, then I prefer them to be less visually “present.”

    (If I could slightly minimize the icons in Scrivener’s toolbar, I would, for example. The rest of the design works so well, though, I hesitate to complain.)

  13. Posted 05 March 2012 at 17:46 | Permalink

    Can’t agree more!!

  14. Posted 05 March 2012 at 17:52 | Permalink

    The graphics are appealing, no argument there. I’ve been toying with Scrivener’s settings to get a similarly nice dark look for the corkboard (all using existing settings), and I think it does work well:

    http://www.literatureandlatte.com/imgshare/copyrighttest_-_Chapter-20120305-174854.png

    Colour-coding things is a good point; the icons in Scrivener’s binder can be colour-tinted using labels, and there are the label bars, too; they wouldn’t work so well in a monochrome binder (although arguably if the binder was monochrome except for labelled items, then it wouldn’t make much difference).

    Best, Keith

  15. Posted 05 March 2012 at 17:54 | Permalink

    Hi Rana, You can minimise the items in Scrivener’s toolbar. As with many Apple programs, all of Scrivener’s toolbar icons have been designed in two variants – a 32×32 one and a 24×24 one. Ctrl-click on the toolbar and select “Use Small Size” (and “Icon Only” if that isn’t already selected). Best, Keith

  16. Christopher Harwood
    Posted 07 March 2012 at 03:51 | Permalink

    I agree completely, although I may be biased because there are lots of things I dislike about Lion. The GUI for Scrivener is very well designed, and I would hate to see that sacrificed to achieve a look consistent with short-term aesthetic trends.

  17. bigO
    Posted 09 March 2012 at 14:35 | Permalink

    I also agree with Keith.

    There exists a psychological theory of perception called “Redundancy Gain”: The more dimensions of distinction are present within an object, the faster and easier we perceive the difference to other objects. UI Icons got several of these dimensions: Shape, picture/metaphor, color, text, the position on the screen and relation to other UI elements. By stripping the color, Apple removed one of these dimensions and reduced the redundancy gain.

    The second (weaker) point is UI consistency. The 16 px icons inside the windows are colorful. Why should they change, when placed in the sidebar?

  18. Jay
    Posted 11 March 2012 at 15:00 | Permalink

    Couldn’t agree with this blog more. I too have struggled with the absence of icon colours in Lion, and I wouldn’t want to see Scrivener go down this road.

  19. Charles McPhate
    Posted 12 March 2012 at 15:18 | Permalink

    I’m with you here. The monochrome icons in Finder were my very first complaint when I upgraded to Lion. It definitely slows me down when trying to find something in the sidebar – I have to actually read the folder names instead of glancing. This has forced me to alphabetize the list instead of grouping them by purpose.

    (FYI: My second complaint was the missing arrows in scrollbars.)

  20. Michael Weinstock
    Posted 13 March 2012 at 22:24 | Permalink

    KEEP THE COLORS!

  21. nares
    Posted 20 March 2012 at 04:47 | Permalink

    it’s too bad you think monochrome is bad. His design is very high-class and would make your app looks more modern.

  22. Posted 20 March 2012 at 12:34 | Permalink
    it’s too bad you think monochrome is bad. His design is very high-class and would make your app looks more modern.

    I know… Just look how outdated Scrivener looks next to other modern Mac apps such as Pages and iBooks Author:

    http://www.literatureandlatte.com/misc/iWorkScrivenerUIComparison.png

    Oh, hang on a minute. :)

  23. Ton
    Posted 22 March 2012 at 09:19 | Permalink

    +1 for colors (and I agree with Mark that also different shapes might help to find something)

  24. Arthur Laurent
    Posted 23 March 2012 at 02:13 | Permalink

    Absolutely agree about the general superiority of color v.monochrome. Some of us remember the dreary, soul-sucking monochrome monitors (amber…green…take your pick!)…and how excited we were when we saw the first color Mac!

    That said, UI is all about efficiency, consistency, speed, and comfort. So if you can use drabness to indicate a “state”, and greater saturation to indicate another state, you’ve got a more successful UI, IMHO.

    Toss in my vote for thinking Scrivener has a pretty good UI…and the flexibility to make it as colorful or as drab as you like!

  25. Helen Cooper
    Posted 23 March 2012 at 03:04 | Permalink

    Please, please, please stick to your guns and keep things colourful!

    I hate the lack of colour in Lion – and it’s the only thing about Lion that I hate. I’ve tried the tricks to get colour back in the Finder Sidebar and can’t make them work – I don’t want to be trying to do that for my most-used application!

    One of the many things that sets Scrivener apart for me is that I can make it colourful – that I can have a minimalist look which still doesn’t suck all the colour out, and stupid as it might sound I would be gutted to have the kind of monochrome approach Apple is trying to create with OSX in Scrivener.

  26. Justin MacCallum
    Posted 28 March 2012 at 02:31 | Permalink

    -1 for colors

    I much prefer a more subdued pallet which allows other elements to stand out due to the use of contrast or color.

    I guess I’m saying I am all for color if it serves a purpose in the UI. What I don’t like is when this icon is one color and this other one is a different color for no particular reason.

  27. Charles J.
    Posted 05 April 2012 at 10:13 | Permalink

    I am even annoyed by the many blueish app icons in my OS X Dock. More different color would help.

  28. bo216
    Posted 05 April 2012 at 19:17 | Permalink

    Sorry. Scrivener is a great app. No question. I write all my screenplays with it. But the UI is not the best and his take is kind of interesting. At least for me. Your mind is already a mess while you write so at least let the UI be clean…

  29. Posted 05 April 2012 at 19:42 | Permalink

    Everyone’s welcome to their own opinions, of course, but what baffles me when people suggest that Scrivener’s UI is not “clean” or somehow not “modern” is that it shows a complete disregard for the standards laid down by Apple. Compare Scrivener to Pages or iBooks Author, Apple flagship apps, and you will see that Scrivener follows strong UI principles set by Apple (and adheres rigorously to the Apple Human Interface Guidelines):

    http://www.literatureandlatte.com/misc/iWorkScrivenerUIComparison.png

    Were Scrivener to follow a completely different design principle – one of its own making – many users would be far more offended by that (and quite rightly, seeing as Apple has always striven to provide a consistent UI across the OS).

    Personally, I utterly disagree with you – but then I would, because I’d hardly design Scrivener so that I couldn’t stand to look at it. :) The thing is, UI is subjective, as are icons and all other aspects of design, and no matter what you do there are always going to be some people who hate it or think it’s ugly (and who will gleefully say so :) ). The best you can do is stick to good design principles, which is what we do. Scrivener’s interface is clean – there are a lot of features, all of which can be tucked away. The trouble is, I think a lot of people these days just want everything to look like Byword. That’s a great app, but you can’t achieve that sort of “cleanness” with a richer feature set. As for the mockups linked to in my blog post, as I say, they look nice, but monochrome is not a great way forward, as others here have agreed, and the space required between the cards would be impracticable on a small screen. I guess I just don’t get what’s not “clean” here:

    http://www.literatureandlatte.com/misc/UncleanUnclean.png

  30. md12
    Posted 10 April 2012 at 12:36 | Permalink

    I think Lukas has hit the nail on the head. Consistency of UI design is the most important thing. The images posted on Dribbble are attractive and very well done but (in my view) lose valuable points for taking the skeuomorphic route.

    Although Apple are (generally rightly) celebrated for good design, iOS is still massively inconsistent when it comes to UI design, and the yellow-notepad, “leather effect” calendar and so-on are frankly embarrassing. Scrivener does not need its pages to look like a Moleskine notebook, it does not need paperclips and so on. It pisses me off a lot when designers spend more time making metaphors literal when they should be making them actually work.

    When Scrivener first came out, it was one of the best-looking (and cleanest, whatever that means) writing tools available. As with anything, design trends come in waves. Currently, “good design” is anything that looks like it came out of Cuppertino with a touch interface in mind: Dark weave backgrounds, subtle gradients, big friendly buttons, handsome sans-serif typography etc. That Scrivener still looks much as it did before, does not mean that it has a bad or ugly UI. It does what it does and does it well; it doesn’t pretend to be something else or waste its time dressing up in the currently fashionable togs and preening*.

    *This is not to say that Scrivener’s UI is the equivalent of a sensible pair of shoes and a chunky cardy, by the way. Although, hell, if everything is going skeuomorphic perhaps we should add real buttons while we’re at it. Losing my train of thought here. As you were.

  31. Josh Bruce
    Posted 11 April 2012 at 01:11 | Permalink

    Interestingly enough, I was just coming by to congratulate you on an excellent product concept (and still do congratulate you) and to see how to contact you to discuss possible UX concepts when I saw this post. I agree with the designer referenced in the post, the UX is somewhat of a challenge for the un-itiated – however User Interface and User Experience isn’t about aesthetics alone, it is about how we interact with the tool…in my opinion as a User Experience Designer by trade.

    Color versus monochromatic: This is a trend in UX in general, not just Apple (YouTube’s redesign is another good example). It isn’t about looking “smarter” it’s about removing distractions from the content of import (for example, on YouTube, the most important thing on the page is the video being played, and it’s hard to discern when surrounded by colorful branding, icons, and marketing). Other examples: Vevo, Facebook…on the other end Windows 7 OS, MS Office…

    Icons: There are really only two things upon which one can depend when creating icons – texture and shape – color is useless to those with certain types of color-blindness. Design also isn’t about aesthetics as much as it is about effectively communicating to the user how to complete desired tasks. One of my favorite design-related quotes is: Great design isn’t about running out of things to add, but running out of things to take away.

    Anyway, again, congratulations on an interesting product. And good luck in its future iterations. Sorry for rambling a bit there – but, this is a subject I’m very passionate about – and the primary reason for me showing up.

    Cheers, Josh

  32. Posted 11 April 2012 at 10:10 | Permalink

    Hi Josh,

    Thanks for the kind words, much appreciated. I agree that it’s about removing distractions (something that Lion also does well with its full screen mode, which allows the toolbar to be hidden entirely until needed; and in Scrivener you can have the entire interface turned grey at that point if you wish). I partially disagree with this point though:

    “Icons: There are really only two things upon which one can depend when creating icons – texture and shape – color is useless to those with certain types of colour-blindness.”

    Whilst I agree, of course, that colour is useless to those with certain types of colour-blindness, there are those of us, as I mentioned in my main post, that suffer from the opposite: I find it very difficult to find icons by shape (or texture) alone, and rely more on colour. This is why, a year on, I still find myself blundering about in the sidebars of Mail and Finder, having to read the text or study – and think about – the icons. So for me, the drainage of colours is more distracting, not less so, because it doubles the amount of time it takes me to do anything.

    I therefore think it’s important not to discard colour just because some users won’t be able to use it. We have many blind users, and for those we do our best to provide good accessibility throughout (all interface items having text that can be read out by OS X’s accessibility tools), but just because we have some blind users, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t also cater to the sighted. :) To make an icon set monochrome disregards those of us who rely chiefly on colour, and that is surely just as bad as disregarding those with colour-blindness.

    To me, a good icon should have several points of visual distinction that cater to different needs: shape, colour, texture and, partly, position. (Someone else above mentioned how they dislike the pills now used in Mail and Preview toolbars, and I agree with that – they not only remove colour, but also obfuscate shape; I’m always clicking on the wrong icons in Mail, something I never did on Tiger.)

    I’d also add that not all trends are good ones, and that Facebook isn’t my idea of a good interface. :)

    Heh, as you can see, having spent a great deal of time sweating over Scriv’s interface, I’m passionate about this topic too!

    Thanks again and all the best, Keith

  33. MSM
    Posted 16 April 2012 at 04:56 | Permalink

    I really like Joost’s UI concept. One of my favorite apps is Reeder and I really like the elegance of a well-done monochromatic UI.

    As a developer, I mostly work with code and colored icons in the file browsers are not very important. You scan your file tree by shape and name pretty quick, a lot of different colored document icons actually ends up looking cluttered in a complex tree. Color coding of code syntax tends to be more important.

    While IDE’s and writing environments aren’t the same, or meant for the same audience, there are some common issues of when and where color is useful. That said, I agree that a lot of people separate things visually by color as well.

    Were it me, my “solution” would be to make the UX something that user’s could select. It’s obviously a little more work to dynamically load UI gfx and styles, but the end result is usually worth it.

  34. E F Conrad
    Posted 22 April 2012 at 13:03 | Permalink

    I wholeheartedly agree that taking the color out of icons is a huge blow to UI efficiency. The thing is, you don’t have to use bright, flashy colors to get the benefit. Soft, muted shades of color can work quite well as long as the contrast is good, and produce a clean, minimalist impression nearly as well as going monochrome without losing important visual cues. I was one of many who complained when Apple overhauled the iTunes interface starting with iTunes 10. It’s disappointing to see the trend continue. It’s good to see Scrivener bucking that trend!

  35. Tonya Engst
    Posted 02 May 2012 at 14:39 | Permalink

    I have difficulty with the mostly gray icons. A bit of color is a big help to me, especially if different icons have different colors. For example, I have trouble seeing the difference between the Mac App Store, iTunes, and Safari icons in my Dock because my brain thinks “big blue circle” and doesn’t as easily remember to look for the nuances of the big blue circle.

    Of course, I am a competent Mac user, and I can find stuff, but when I researched software to replace Quicken (for my Lion upgrade), the colorfulness of icons was a key aspect of my decision making process.

    Also, I spend hours each day on the computer. I don’t want my computer screen to be boring gray. I want the color.

  36. Bunny Evans
    Posted 03 May 2012 at 16:53 | Permalink

    I have any number of reasons for not using a mac. Suffice it to say that the attitude of mac users plays a significant part of it, much like the price and the fact that iphones are actually useless as train tickets where I live.

    So I was quite happy to find a windows version, which is an OS where we have colourful things all over the place, many where you don’t want them. I rather like the full screen view on my little thinkpad, with 200% zoom it’s easy reading.

    I’m sorry to say that if it turns into that mockup, I won’t be upgrading to it. Simple as that. I think it is excessively bland.

    I already live in an ocean of grey mediocrity, the last thing I need is an application that follows reality.

  37. ibookworm
    Posted 08 May 2012 at 16:31 | Permalink

    I’m not sure it’ a trade-off between color for usability and monochrome for aesthetics. I actually think that the über-gray monochromatic look that Apple has been sliding towards is just plain ugly. It kind of hit me out of the blue the other day that I was using an ugly OS. It was a bit of a shock. It happened gradually enough that I didn’t really notice it. And unfortunately Lion is not themeable or skinnable like past versions of the OS.

    Oddly enough, I think I would far rather have the much-reviled candy colors of the original Aqua. I thought the translucent blues and whites theme was pretty cool. I especially liked the subtle pinstriping. The OS felt alive and friendly in a Mac-like way, while Lion feels clinical and bland.

  38. Yavuz
    Posted 12 May 2012 at 19:43 | Permalink

    For what its worth: One of the good things about software UI design (as opposed to physical product design) is that you can have your cake and eat it, too. Do you like colorful icons while your user base prefers monochromes? Just include both and let them choose. Same thing for the overall UI design.

    As for my personal preference, I do prefer low-clutter UIs, which are the software UI equivalent of the Fundamental Axiom of Design: “the less design, the better.” It is much harder to design a UI that uses fewer colors, panes, keystrokes, etc., while having the same functionality, but it is worth the extra cost on the developer side when you consider that any benefits are multiplied by the number of users.

    As an example that is not visual, take the pane navigation in Scrivener: it uses specific chords to move the focus to specific panes. In Emacs, I use opt+arrow keys to do the same thing, and it works regardless of the pane layout or what I am doing. I haven’t been able to memorize the Scrivener chords, but I never forget the Emacs ones. (I use both about the same amount of time, for different purposes. I am not a heavy user of either of them.)

    One of the better UI low-clutter design examples is Lightroom. In my opinion, Apple apps are not necessarily the best examples of UI design; for example, the useless and irritating eye-candy in Address Book is enough for me to go out of my way not to use it. iPhone physical design is low-clutter, but the iOS visual design is on the high-clutter side. If your UI design is close to some Apple apps, that is a good indication that you should take a good long hard look at decluttering it.

  39. Posted 16 May 2012 at 23:08 | Permalink

    I don’t understand the monochrome icons at all. I was so disappointed when I first installed Lion.

    What happened to a GRAPHICAL user interface?

    Colorful icons are just easier to see, and make the computer easier to navigate. When I want something, I want it NOW, without having to read the grey mishmash to find what I want.

    I love Apple’s design — usually — but the grey icons are just plain distracting. Now instead of finding what I want instantly, I lose my concentration because I need to read to find what I want…

    Bring back colors! — Shapes would be nice, too.. :-)

  40. Dean
    Posted 27 May 2012 at 06:55 | Permalink

    I, for one, prefer Lion’s monochromatic UI! I like how it places emphasis on the content — color within the Finder window, grey around the borders. Before Lion, I always modded all my icons to a more subdued, monochromatic color-scheme. I strongly dislike distractions in my peripheral vision.

    That said, Scrivener’s UI is very consistent with the UI scheme in Pages. Very much so. I use Pages a whole lot for marking up short documents or doing layout, and making the switch to Scrivener is a pleasantly easy transition. So, no problems there!

    If anything, I’d prefer to see more customizable features. If you want to offer a monochrome sidebar, make it an option selectable in Preferences. More options are always appreciated by someone out there, and if they’re just Preferences options, those who don’t care for them won’t complain!

2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] Blount, the brain behind Scrivener (one of my favorite pieces of software), talks about The Mac Monochrome Trend – A Plea For Keeping Things Colourful: When Apple decided to drain the icons in these programs of their colour, I learned something [...]

  2. [...] week I found out (via ignorethecode) that Keith Blount, the developer, responded to my shots on his blog: It’s flattering that someone would be interested in Scrivener enough to spend time mocking up [...]