Let’s talk about those OS X Yosemite app icons

I’m not going to bother explaining what OS X Yosemite is outside of linking to this page. Now, let’s talk about the redesigned app icons. Some are OK. Some are not. I’m going to explain what I don’t like about the bad ones and why I like the not-so-bad ones.

I’m not going to talk about stuff like the share icon (which is better than iOS 7’s but still really bad) or any other buttons and glyphs. Just app icons. I won’t even discuss all of the icons, just the ones that have actually been changed in Yosemite beta 1 (which does not include iTunes).

Each icon will be listed below with the old and new versions. You can roll over each icon to see which version it is, but it should be pretty obvious without that.


The Good Not Awful

The App Store icon is very similar to the old version and there aren’t many ways to screw this one. I can definitely live with this one.


Dictionary is a book. Again, not a lot of ways to mess up here. It’s a detailed, good-looking book.

Game Center underwent the biggest change between these two operating systems. The new version is probably not what I’d call a great icon in terms of representing what the app does. In the actual context of a social gaming platform, this is a horribly stupid icon that has no business existing at all. That being said, as an icon alone it’s much better here than it is on iOS 7 with that white background. Look at the detail on the bubbles. They look great, if you don’t consider what they’re supposed to represent.

iBooks is a lot like the App Store. It’s hard to screw it up. It’s a lot like the previous design, which was fairly simple. A book in a circle. Easy. I’m not in love with the design of the book, but it’s a heck of a lot better than the iOS icon. I still think the book in the original icon was the best, though.

Launchpad is another easy one. A rocket in a circle. Have you noticed that the best icons here are just a thing in a circle? I’m not saying that’s some magic formula for a good icon, but I am saying it’s a formula that happens to be better than certain other formulas we’ll see later.

Mail is one that I was torn on at first. The colors and slightly-longer shape than the old icon make it look a bit cartoony at first, but looking at a larger version close-up without other icons surrounding it in the Dock made it look much better. That’s why in deciding which icons were “good” and which were “bad,” I looked at each one individually rather than surrounded by others that could bring them down.


Maps is one of the much better icons. It’s really just a slightly-tweaked version of the original. I’m not fully convinced that the “3D” label on the compass needs to actually be included in the icon, but it doesn’t detract from it enough to make a huge difference.

Notes looks a notepad. That’s how an icon for an app that actually is a notepad should look.

Preview is another one that I had mixed feelings about at first. After closer inspection I’ve decided it’s similar enough to the old icon to remain identifiable, though I’ve had some trouble finding it lately since I usually looked for that photo of the kid that has been on the icon for as long as I can remember.

TextEdit‘s new icon strongly resembles it’s predecessor, which is a good thing. The only real difference here is the shape and the removal of the quote from Apple’s “crazy ones” ad.

Time Machine‘s icon is simple enough. I’m not as fond of this version as I was the previous one, but it’s bearable.

Activity Monitor looks like the old one, but without the border (mostly). The colors are also a bit more muted. I can live with that, though I’d like to see the colors pop a bit more.

Terminal couldn’t get any simpler. It’s basically the same as the previous version’s icon but without the border. Terminal widows don’t have a border, so the icon is now even more representative of the app.


The Bad

Calculator doesn’t look like a real calculator (I have never seen a borderless calculator, though perhaps they exist somewhere). But what’s perhaps even more ridiculous is the fact that it doesn’t look like the app it represents. As an icon I suppose it’s decent, but let’s talk about attention to detail here: where is the label on the = button? Come on, Apple! Pay attention!

Calendar looks weirdly cartoony. I’m not sure if that’s because of the elongated shape or what, but there’s just something about this icon that looks like it belongs in an animated TV show and not an operating system.

Contacts is another cartoon-looking icon. This is software for adults. It should be presented as such.

FaceTime contains a roundrect. This is the Mac, not iOS. Do not use roundrects for Mac icons, even if they are paired up with a circle. Also, what’s with the circle? Was this an attempt to follow the pattern of the Maps app? Because if so, it failed badly. (To be fair, I wasn’t a big fan of the old icon either.)

Messages looks dumb. I’m actually getting tired of referring to icons are “cartoony,” but that’s what this one is, too. I would accept this icon on a child’s toy phone. However, my nearly-$4,000 computer is not a child’s toy phone by any stretch of the imagination.

Reminders looks like the app. That’s usually good, but the app looks bad. The thin lines on the icon make them hard to see at smaller sizes (like in the Dock). Sure, the Notes and TextEdit icons also have thin lines, but those icons’ lines are actually more visible than the ones on the Reminders icon (even if just barely in the case of Notes).

The Safari icon looks bad on iOS, with its awkward white background, floating blue circle, and thin lines. On the Mac a few of these issues have been addressed: the lines are thicker, the white background is gone, and a floating circle is more at home on OS X. However, while other icons listed above could be called “immature,” the Safari icon is the only one that fits into this category while not being (yes, I’m going to say it again) cartoony. It just seems like too incomplete of an illustration to be a serious icon.

The System Preferences icon is actually really nice, mostly. The metallic coloring, detailed gear, and sense of depth come together to create a beautiful icon… except for that shape. It’s not even as rounded as the FaceTime icon. It’s almost a straight-up rectangle. Yes, the old icon was a similar shape, but that doesn’t make this acceptable. I always thought the old one could have used a better shape as well, but this? This is just horrible.

Misson Control never had a great icon, but at least the previous version had a little character to it. The new version is just… boring. A black square with a few colored shapes on it? Yawn!

The Finder dude just looks like a creep now. What the heck? I feel like he might want to hurt me. To be fair, the feeling is definitely mutual. Here’s the weirdest part about the Finder icon, though: the icon that comes with Yosemite beta 1 is not the same icon that appears on the Yosemite page on Apple’s website. I prefer the one from Apple’s site over the one currently included in the beta. Strangely enough, this is one icon that I would accept even though it’s the same shape as the System Preferences icon that I hate for its shape. The previous icon wasn’t completely rectangular (note the lines coming off the top and bottom), which I liked better, but the version of the icon on Apple’s website is still acceptable for whatever reason. But not the version the shipped in beta 1. Nope.