Make It Flatter: The Yosemite Backlash

Whether you’re searching for inspiration or want to enhance your design skills—or, like most of us, both—you’ll find what you need at HOW Design Live.

OS X Yosemite has seen a steady adoption rate since its release last year. And yet, many designers and users in general, aren’t completely satisfied with Mac OS X 10.10. On social media as well as Apple’s support community, the Yosemite-haters vent their frustration. They’ve either avoided Yosemite altogether or installed it and gone back to Mavericks. But why give up when you can change it up?


What if you have Yosemite, but it’s not working out between 10.10 and your Mac? Or not working out with you? An October 17, 2014 post on Apple’s support community boasts over 110,000 views with 530 replies to the question “How can I uninstall OS X Yosemite and return to OS X Mavericks?” If you’re on the fence still, you’re not alone. In the “No Yosemite” camp, you’ll find Erik Spiekermann, who when asked about Yosemite replied to me on Twitter saying he’s “trying to delay it as long as possible.


Self-proclaimed typomaniac Erik Spiekermann has avoided OS X Yosemite.

Yosemite Adoption, Far from Flat

And yet, the adoption rate looks good. In a February 2015 Computerworld post, Gregg Keizer cited a Net Applications statistic that “Yosemite accounted for 49% of all instances of OS X in January, up from 45% the month before.” By those numbers, Yosemite has taken off, but disinterest and even frustration continue to swirl months after the Yosemite release. Some would say it began long before, when people began suspecting that Mac OS X might begin to take its visual cues from the flatness of iOS 7, previewed in summer 2013 and released in fall 2013.

Plenty of people didn’t like and still don’t like the flat iOS look and feel. Unifying the operating systems across iOS and OS X platforms made sense then and still makes sense, in order to give a consistent look and feel. Thinking along those lines, and before Yosemite’s release, Danny Giebe prototyped his own flat version of OS X, which was eerily close to what some of Yosemite wound up looking like. Glebe had thousands of views on Dribbble, with most comments suggesting Giebe was very near the mark. And he was.

And yet, the flatness ruined Yosemite for a lot of users, who had grown accustomed to the photorealistic icons and smooth gradients over the years. Others cite Yosemite’s visual inconsistencies as problematic, with some icons looking flat, and others having fuller dimensions and even gradients. OS X modders are transforming Yosemite’s look and feel, customizing everything from the icons (you say they’re too flat, well let’s make them flatter!). Freelance designer/illustrator Alex Griendling took it upon himself to mod OS X Yosemite, designing a suite of system icons, as well as various application icons, which go beyond the flatness of Yosemite.


Zion-captures Like Yosemite, but want flatter, friendlier icons? Then Zion was made just for you.

Creating a Friendly Consistency

Griendling used Adobe Illustrator CC for rendering, exported each icon as a PNG file, and then converted them to ICNS files with iConvert Icons from the App Store. Having designed them for himself initially, Griendling uses the icons on Yosemite. He swapped them out with LiteIcon, which also works for swapping icons on Mavericks. And Griendling isn’t alone in his adoption of the icon pack, called Zion, which has been downloaded approximately 400 times as of February 2015.




For Griendling, Snow Leopard was the last great Mac OS, and with subsequent OS X versions, he saw Apple’s incorporation of mobile design thinking as “frivolous and unwarranted.” Yosemite, on the other hand, does hold some promise, but it’s far from perfect. “Apple did a good job simplifying Yosemite’s visual language by removing gradients and gloss throughout. However, many of the icons remained overly-complex, lost visual clarity at small sizes, and are generally inconsistent.” Griendling believes his icons are successful because they address those issues. “I was tired of the disparate mess my dock had become. I initially made a much smaller set to replace my most often-used applications, but was dissatisfied every time a default icon would show up, leading me to make the much larger set of 200+ icons.




Living Simply

Griendling says that the response to his icons has been positive, although some have called them “childlike” because according to him, “people equate vibrant colors and approachable
shapes as childish.” Griendling, who also worked on overhauling Google’s visual language with the Google Art Department, received that kind of feedback with Google’s product icons as well. On Dribbble, one commentator jokingly questioned Mac icons designed by somebody who also worked for Google.

When asked about inspiration, Griendling admits that he doesn’t look at people in his field because this has the potential to “create a closed loop, where design is only influenced by other design and fails to draw influence from the larger world it should be trying to improve.” Instead, he chooses to look at art, video games, and comic books. For those who look at Griendling’s work for inspiration, consider his humble confession on Twitter: “I am not a rockstar designer. I am a man in an apartment, sitting in a chair, staring at a screen. Sometimes I adjust the chair’s armrests.” Like the OS X icons he’s created, Griendling simply lives, well, simply.

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 11.25.18 AMSocial Media: Today’s Key Marketing Tool

an online course at HOW Design University

This course will teach you how to engage with your audience through relevant content and discussion. It will turn your social media feed from a list of dull press releases or pointless personal updates into a thriving community. It will teach you how to manage many social networks. It will explain the difference between platforms and the roles they perform. It will also introduce you to various tools to make the management of social media easier. Learn more and register.