NOT a wish: ML color vampire

As someone who has (very, very reluctantly) upgraded from Snow Leopard straight to Mountain Lion and been HORRIFIED at the unworkable, depressing monochrome gray GUI of everything in it, I would just like to say:

Please, Keith, please do not follow Apple’s lead and allow the color vampire to suck our Scrivener toolbars dry! I am now using Path Finder instead of Finder, and Postbox instead of Apple Mail, for the sole reason that they have color and I can see what I’m doing. (If only I could find a replacement for Aperture, but Lightroom just replaces Apple gray with Adobe gray, darker gray and black.)

I don’t think you would cripple your users’ workflow that way, but I didn’t think it of Apple either and have been sadly disillusioned. So I’m taking no chances and am registering my Not-a-Wish here.

I can’t find it, but when Lion came out, someone requested that Scrivener’s toolbar icons and other UI elements follow Apple’s lead. Keith came down on the side of (colorful) angels, and defended the choice to stick with the icons, as Lit & Lat had already invested a good deal of money to have them converted to Retina-display-ready versions.

Rest assured that there is very little possibility that Scrivener will ever be so monochromatic. Thank the gods.

Oh thank heavens.

Now I can relax, and try to understand who on earth actually likes that horror of a GUI and would wish to inflict it on Scrivener… [baffled]

Hi Fletcher,

Don’t worry, I’m with you all the way on this - in fact, I blogged about my hatred of the monochrome trend a little while ago:

Finder and Mail have driven me nuts since Lion. Icons are there to make things easier to find than trying to scan through text, and they work by relying on two visual cues: shape and colour. Making all icons monochrome is completely backwards from a usability standard, as it reduces their usefulness by 50%. I never realised how much I relied on colour until it was taken away from me. It turns out that I used to locate the Downloads icon in the Finder by its greenness, the Documents icon by its whiteness, the Movies icon by its blueness and so on. I’ve given up trying to parse the grey icons in the Finder - I now just read the text. The icons may as well not be there at all. It’s the same in Mail - I click on the “Get Mail” icon all the time when I mean to click on “Compose”. Sure, the internal shape is different, but they are both grey icons in square grey buttons, and it turns out that my brain is wired to look for colour more than it is for shape.

If Apple made all of its icons the same shape and just asked you to tell the difference between them by colour - “This one’s green and this one’s red!” - then there would be an uproar, because it would be unusable to the colour-blind. You need different shapes for those people who cannot process colour differences so easily. But it stands to reason that there are plenty of people out there who process colour better than they do shapes, too, so to me, dropping colour is as stupid as dropping shapes from icons.

Argh. I’ve ranted about this enough. Suffice to say that, despite the occasional emails we get from users telling us that our interface isn’t “modern enough” because it doesn’t look like silhouettes in a snowstorm on a cloudy day, Scrivener shall be retaining its colour. Monochrome interfaces look lovely in screenshots, but as soon as you have more than three or four icons, they are hell to use.

And as Robert says, we have indeed just paid our icon designer a lot of money for a complete new set of icons at twice the size for the Retina display - all in glorious full colour and looking beautiful in my biased opinion.

All the best,

Well, I genuinely am colour-blind, and you’d be surprised the extent to which it – erm – colours one’s life. Anything red fades into the background, instead of being more distinctive, so the classic warning signs have no heightened visibility effect at all, and I have no idea when any electrical device is charged or ready (red and green LEDs appear the same to me). If you want to see the effect for yourselves, there is a little program called Sim Daltonism which does a good job of showing it:

It usually causes consternation when I show it to the “normally-sighted” (“You see things like that!!!”)

However, defective as my colour vision is (I appear to suffer from protanomaly) I still heavily relied on the colours of icons, and I also think that the change in (Mountain) Lion is a considerable step backwards in usability. Anybody who has studied psychology for five minutes could probably point to the Stroop Effect as a classic example of the way that cognition can be favoured or hindered by the combination of colour with shape and verbal cues.

And if anyone wants a lilac shirt that I thought was blue, get in touch.*


*No, only joking – though I did once commit that error. And I had a pair of brown trousers for years that turned out to be green. And a purple backpack that I thought was blue until someone couldn’t find it for me. I could go on …

The man who originally taught me the basics of EFL teaching — in the 1960s — was colour blind. Way back then, the standard sort of posters used as visual aids were primarily composed in precisely the brownish red and muddy green that he could not distinguish at all, so were unusable for him. And everyday he wore pale lilac shirts with matching ties … I never asked him what colour he thought they were.

And one day my Head of Department at Westminster said to me, “X just asked me if I am going for an interview, since I was wearing a suit. Why on earth did he think that?” HoD was wearing brown trousers and an olive green jacket … I pointed out that the answer was simple … X was colour blind and to him the jacket and trousers looked entirely made from the same cloth.

I sympathise with you, Martin. It must make many things more difficult. I now have what I think of as a minor deficiency, but which could be problematic … I have totally lost my sense of smell, though my cognitive system sometimes makes me aware of “smells” which have no source in the environment where I am. But for instance, I have to be extra careful to make sure I have turned the gas off fully as I can’t smell it, and I guess I could find myself in a toxic environment of which I would be totally unaware.


Eeek – that does sound a bit serious. I’m sorry to hear it. A double-edged weapon, I would think: advantageous in some circumstances, but definitely not most of the time. I can think of several occasions recently when I’ve been warned of impending disaster (mostly in the kitchen) by my sense of smell. Mind you, most of what happens in my kitchen is a disaster, but it doesn’t usually involve burning the place down. I sympathise.


Thank you for the reassurance, Keith. I read your blog post with a great deal of head nodding, and a couple of “ahas” when something clicked. I had not analyzed precisely WHY I can’t find anything in my menus or sidebars anymore, but now that you’ve put it into words for me, I can say that I am another person whose brain recognizes colors before shapes.

What I don’t understand is why Apple did not give its users the choice. Yes, I get that they wanted to smooth the transition for new customers coming into OSX via iOS, but what about the existing client base? Postbox handles this perfectly: the default icon set is monochrome, but if you go into Customize Toolbar, there are all of the lovely color icons just waiting for you to set them free with a single click.

Keep raging against the monochrome night, and know that you have many customers grateful for the refuge you provide.

PS. “Silhouettes in a snowstorm on a cloudy day” – snort! I’m going to remember that one.

I too am glad for the reassurance that Scrivener won’t be going monochromatic.

Before I had heard of Scrivener*, I worked with a writing project management software on Windows for a while. One of my main frustrations with it was the black and white icons and toolbars. I have vision problems and after a while of looking at the monochromatic toolbars, I’d start getting headaches. The new Finder sidebar bothers my eyes.

The wonderful thing about Scriveners colors is the customization options; everyone can adjust to their needs. If monochrome suits ( :open_mouth: my head aches at the thought) that’s even an option.

*(I switched to Mac just to get Scrivener and am so grateful for it, though I’m too busy using it to recount all the ways)