The Apple goes mushy

Nicholas Windsor Howard shares his thoughts on what he perceives as a decline of the OS X interface. There’s a lot to process here, a reasoned, well thought out essay.

Just a taste:

In Apple’s view, an icon depicting a camera and a photo was too literal for an application that handles photos. Therefore, when iPhoto gave way to its replacement in 2015—Photos—the previous carefully-rendered icon gave way to this bland, meaningless rainbow abstraction.

Is the move from the obvious to the minimalistically abstract a step up? A step down? Read this, decide for yourself.

  • barf

    Another Eli Schiff devotee parroting his pseudo-science.

    “I was fortunate enough to buy a ticket, and now my first ever design conference, and the rare shining chance to see Eli Schiff speak, are only hours away.”


  • GlennC777

    If you ask me, he makes a good case. It seems possible to me that Jobs and Ive made a good team because Jobs was always rooted in reality and could prevent Ive from stepping off into arcana. Jobs wasn’t always right but did constitute a sort of gravitational center for good judgment at Apple.

    I have not personally been a fan of the way Apple’s visuals have evolved since Jobs, but keep thinking I may be the exception.

    • Cranky Observer

      Those who like Bauhaus design not only like it but believe those who don’t are deluded and/or just incapable of seeing its eternal and surpassing beauty. Those of us who don’t like Bauhaus design and/or simply find it non-functional have a somewhat different opinion…

      • GlennC777

        I admire simplicity in design mainly as a function of removing un-necessary ornamentation. I don’t see any benefit to maximizing simplicity as its own end. Useful graphical cues that serve a purpose improve utility and can also be visually appealing. Steve Jobs seemed to believe that good design was primarily about function, whereas Ive at times seems to believe that good design is primarily about appearance, with simplicity as a primary metric.

  • I couldn’t agree more.

  • GS

    Wasn’t this horse beat to death already? It’s a modern world, and “gasp” still evolving.

  • Can an icon just be an icon? How much metaphor do we need these days?

  • Caleb Hightower


  • John

    Honestly, I prefer the newer interface elements and icons. The whole Steve wouldn’t have done it this way meme is pretty whingy.

  • Honestly? No thank you. This sort of wordy rant is exactly the bullshit I hate about the Apple ecosystem, as if we’re supposed to respect his opinion because he threw enough damn words into it.

    You don’t like the new Photos icon? Say that. I don’t like the new Photos icon, either. But I don’t see it as a troubling trend. God knows most of the other icons have been improved lately. One icon doesn’t represent an essay like this, headed by that ridiculous photoshopped Mac OS logo.

    Yeesh. I feel like I need a shower now.

    • The Pages one is probably his worst example. THe old looks like a pen and ink pot, would make sense if we were using Apple pencils or stylii back then.

      New pages icon is -obviously -for some sort of word processor not an ink based app…

      • Marycbianco

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  • SockRolid

    The dead-end of skeuomorphism lives on, for some reason, in macOS.

    Looking forward to the day when macOS catches up to iOS’ modern “flatness”.

  • rick gregory

    I stopped when he started down the “Ever since Jobs died…” line of reasoning. People keep making the mistake of assuming Steve was always right, always right the first time and never changed his mind. He undoubtedly has a great sense of what worked well as a marriage of design , tech and usability but the fact is that we don’t know what he would have thought of the direction of OS X and whether he would have loved or hated specific icons. Would it be different if he were around? Yes, absolutely. Better? Perhaps. But he’s NOT.

    On the Photos icon, there are a couple of things to remember – first, that icons don’t exist in a vacuum… using a camera for Photos means it could be confused with an actual camera app or with other apps that also use cameras as icons. Using any literal representation of a thing also a) limits the scope of what you can represent and b) assumes your audience can’t understand abstractions. If all photo related things use some kind of camera as an icon how do you differentiate? And Photos isn’t really a camera app – its about the images taken with a camera. The icon clearly represents the color spectrum of images.

    • adamschoales

      Adding onto this, the Photos app is not iPhoto. It’s a different app, so it’s naturally going to look different.

      But digging deeper, its the MacOS version of an iOS app that preceded it. Think back to what the original Photos Icon for iOS looked like. It was a yellow flower. This new icon is an abstracted flower, with a much more multicoloured palette that, as you mentioned, represents “the colour spectrum of images”. Therefore I’d argue it’s a better icon than the one that preceded it (unless you took a lot of photos of yellow flowers).

      Now, if you want to talk about awful icons we can discuss the Safari icon which to this day is an eyesore, made all the worse by the fact that I can no longer customize how it looks in El Cap like I could in previous versions of MacOS (which I did frequently).

  • eilfurz

    he’s pretty spot on – just look at the old icon of pages compared to the newer one (yes, the newer one depicts a page, but the older one is still more… iconic ). the user interface has gotten harder and more complex to use and requires much more knowledge of how things work than the old one. sure lots of the old icons look dated compared to contemporary design, but it’s definitely possible to make new icons without sacrificing their visual impact.

    • His whole site is dated, so I’m not surprised he wants to drag us all back into early 2000’s land

    • Costa K

      Um, what’s an inkwell?

  • I have trouble taking his interface or design ideas seriously unless it’s rendering wrong on my iPad does it look this terrible on other browsers? Or is he going for some sort of “retro” look. He is a website designer with a .. unique at least .. site.

  • Costa K

    I agree with the criticisms over the lack of colour. For too long chrome and grey have dominated the OS landscape.

    But I disagree with his argument about icons and the lack of their real world counterparts. Whoever said all notepads were yellow? I’ve never used a yellow notepad. Why use a pair of scissors to denote a screenshot? The utility uses crosshairs not scissors. And I always found the “HG Wells time machine” laughable. Your files are meant to be represented by time, not disappearing somewhere in the nether regions of a galaxy.

    But I think we can all agree that the new icon for Game Centre is an abomination.

  • I read The Humane Interface by Jef Raskin a number of years ago. One particular thing he wrote really stuck with me. He said it doesn’t matter what an icon looks like. Through usage it will become associated in the user’s mind with the item it represents. The important thing is that it’s recognizable.