The New Leopard Dock and the HIG

Another terrific post from Craig Hockenberry, regarding the changes Apple has made to the perceived “shelf” angle and lighting effects of the Dock in Leopard:

The floor displayed on the Dock does not use the perspective of the desk in front of you, nor does it appear as a shelf. Because there’s a difference between the floor angles and the traditional desktop icon angles, many icons look wrong.

An example is the Trash, which has a slight tilt forward. The Transmit truck also looks like it’s pirouetting on the front-left tire.

Hockenberry is exactly right. What’s interesting about this case is that most developer complaints about the HIG in recent years boil down to the core problem that it’s woefully out of date. Important new concepts like source lists are hardly mentioned at all; many of its cosmetic guidelines are obviously antiquated compared to what we can all plainly see are Apple’s actual Mac OS X UI style guidelines.

But with icons, the HIG was updated for Mac OS X in precise detail — as Craig mentions, even going so far as to document the “desktop” angle for drawing icons in perspective. Changing this in Leopard just seems arbitrary and thoughtless.

You might say, Well, so what if the angle is a little different? The difference is that many existing icons now look “not quite right”. Top-notch icon designers sweat over each and every pixel. (Well, maybe not every pixel in the new 512x512 icons, but close.) The icon sections in the current HIG take this perfectionism into account; there’s an assumption that yes, Macintosh icons really should look perfect.

The three most cosmetically important user interface elements on the Mac are the menu bar, the Dock, and the standard window borders. Those are the three things that are visible nearly all the time, in all apps. All three have changed significantly in Leopard. One — window borders — is improved, but the other two are worse.