Sunday, April 06, 2008

Mac OS X Leopard: Designer’s Guide to Icons

The Leopard icons ...

"In 2000 Apple released the visual theme Aqua, a stunning leap forward in graphical user interface design. At the same time Apple published the Human Interface Guidelines (HIG), a tool for developers and designers that gives a detailed breakdown of the design philosophy behind Aqua. Apple recently updated their Human Interface Guidelines (HIG) to include the way the visual theme Aqua has evolved in Apple’s latest operating system, OS X 10.5 Leopard. This is the first update since 2006.

Let’s take a look at how this affects icon designers.
Aqua: Strive For Simplicity

“Gorgeous, artistic icons are an important part of the Mac OS user experience. Users expect beautiful icons that tell an application’s story in a clear and memorable way.”

To get really beautiful icons, Apple recommends that you let a professional designer create your icons. Despite all the eye candy and realism that is possible to apply to icons, less is more. Strive for a simple solution using one easily recognisable object. The basic shape or silhouette of your icon can help users to quickly identify it. If you aim for an international market, your symbols need to also be internationally recognizable providing Worldwide Compatibility.

To increase usability and avoid confusing users as to what is part of the Aqua interface and what belongs to an application looking great in the Aqua interface, avoid using Aqua interface elements in your icons, don’t use replicas of Apple hardware products and don’t reuse Mac OS×system icons in your icons. It can be confusing to users to see the same symbol used to mean slightly different things in multiple locations.

Light Source and Perspective in Aqua

Use a single light source with the light coming from above and slightly in front of the icon. This icon for Apple’s Address Book is a good example of the lighting in Mac OS X, Aqua.

Apple writes that “perspective and shadows are the most important components of making good icons“. The perspective for icons and the concept of icon genres and families remain the same in Leopard’s graphical user interface as in previous versions of Aqua.

Aqua icons, such as this icon for Apple’s Pages, display a high level of realism and often show off glassy effects and transparency effects. This works best with concepts that can be described with a physical object. Icons that convey abstract concepts such as “music”, “checkout” or “download” are tricky to make photorealistic representations of.

For example, what would be a good way to symbolize the idea of music? A note? A photorealistic image of notes on paper? An instrument? Which instrument? And will using a harp or a sheet of classical music be too specific for anyone to feel that rap music or jazz could be represented by this imagery?

Not to mention how to make photorealistic representations of concepts like “Compute Value Added Tax” or “Restore Latest Backup”.

It is interesting to see how the icons in the iPhone and iPod interface have made a break from the photo-realism of Aqua and are designed more as symbols, which was the original idea behind the computer icon."    (Continued via Smashing Magazine)    [Usability Resources]

Mac OS X Icons - Usability, User Interface Design

Mac OS X Icons

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