F’d up Font Palette

Font PaletteJust because I’m about to add further to the list of Tiger gripes that have flooded the Internet since its release last Friday night, it doesn’t mean that I don’t like it. I like it a lot, I really do; not just its new features and user interface improvements, but also its under-the-hood advancements, which make me feel very confident about the operating system’s long-term prospects.

But it’s a complex platform, and any time Apple upgrades it, it’s impossible to avoid baring imperfections, some old, some new. A case in point is the Mac OS X font palette, the system-wide, floating interface for typeface selection that received a major overhaul with the release of Tiger’s predecessor, Panther. It’s a fairly powerful interface for control of typographic specifications in most all Cocoa applications, and so it plays a rarely discussed but central role in Mac productivity.

You Can Never Have Too Many Helveticas

Since its debut, the font palette has always been highly flawed, but over the past few years I’ve come to terms with it, like many other designers, I’m sure. It has a handy feature that allows users to save preset typographic specimens — 12 pt. Helvetica Bold in black, for instance, or 17 pt. Comic Sans in purple — in a Favorites list that can be easily and more or less universally accessed. I’ve come to rely on that quite a bit because, as people who know my design sensibility reasonably well can attest, I use a hell of a lot of 12 pt. Helvetica Bold.

Below: One of these font palettes sucks less than the other. At left, the Panther version, which allows you to save the same font in many different colors. At right, the Tiger version, which does not.

Each time Apple releases a new version of Mac OS X, I cross my fingers and hope that they will improve this widget’s many usability shortcomings, to no avail. But neglect is something I can deal with; disabuse is another. If I’m correct, we’ve actually lost some functionality in Tiger’s font palette: it’s no longer possible to save more than one instance of a typeface/type size combination in your Favorites. So, if you want to add 12 pt. Helvetica Bold in green to a list that already includes 12 pt. Helvetica Bold in black, you’re out of luck. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s now impossible to save fonts in any color but black. Henry Ford would be proud.


I don’t know if this bug is a byproduct of changes to the font management system for Tiger, or perhaps the result of some well-meaning Apple engineer’s attempt at actually improving the font palette itself. I rather doubt it’s a case of the latter, because there are really no changes to the palette whatsoever, not even the addition of a method of actually deleting favorites. This palette has always borne the marks of a haphazard interface design process, one full of good intentions but very short on foresight, planning and a true understanding of user needs. For an operating system that habitually boasts its credentials as a premier creative platform, to leave this key typographic tool in a state of such disarray is a bit of an embarrassment.



  1. It’s interesting to me that they redrew the text color button, but still left it so it always shows a light green swatch instead of the actual active color.

    I’m truly disappointed that the text palette hasn’t been improved more in Tiger.

  2. Hmm, this is very odd, indeed. It’s got to be either a bug or an oversight. If it’s a bug, maybe we can hope for a quick fix in the form of 10.4.1. *fingers crossed*

  3. Hrm… that’s unfortunate. A more interesting question would be — how the devil did you get *four scroll buttons? I know it’s possible to do with Firefox, but the idea of doing it with a whole OS is quite beyond my knowledge…

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