is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Vice President of User Experience at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. You can reach him through one of the services below.+
This definitely falls into the category of minutiae, but I was fascinated by this recent, very subtle refinement to Mac OS X’s Aqua interface. After upgrading the operating system on my PowerMac G4 to version 10.2.3, I noticed that the window controls — the close, minimize and zoom buttons in the upper-left hand corner — have recessed ever so slighly.Where once they were three little balls sitting on top of the title bar, they’ve now been receded just a tiny bit into the ‘chrome’ of the window, so that they resemble jewel settings — or, rather, push buttons. The illustration here shows, at top, a Safari browser window from Mac OS X 10.2.1 and below it one from 10.2.3.
It’s hardly an earth-shattering change, but it needles me a bit that this was made. No doubt it was a decision that arose out of user testing, but I have to wonder if it will truly, dramatically increase the usability of the operating system. It just seems to acquiesce a little too easily to the credo that, unless a button looks button-like, no one will know what to do with it.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a design principle that I’m happy to follow in my own work. It just seems that the original close, minimize and zoom buttons were sufficiently button-like without being slavishly so. Their quietly unorthodox prevalence in the number two operating system in the world represented a minor yet significant opportunity to expand the visual vocabulary a bit. Oh well.+