Aqua Finer

030221_aqua_tweak.gif 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.

030221_aqua_tweak.jpgIt’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.

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One Comment

  1. I personally have always hated those 3 buttons, and find the new style at least less irritating. The old jellybean buttons always gave the impression that they’d roll off the surface of the widow at any moment. At least now they seem anchored in place.

    My main gripe from a usability standpoint, is how rolling over any of the three buttons highlights all of them. Even if the mouse rests somewhere between two of the buttons they highlight, giving the user false feedback. Nowhere else in UI design do you see this type of thing.

    A better solution would be for the buttons to have a default state that indicates their function (x,-,+) and on rollover have only the button under the cursor get brighter.

    Anyway, nice site.