I had been forced to switch to Apple’s latest, Big Sur, recently. Which ought to be fine in general, but it comes with a very nasty and ugly problem: to look all the time at this new system typeface. When I moved on to OS 10.10.5 a few years back, restoring Lucida Grande was the very first thing I did run with my machine. Now with Big Sur, there seems not to be (yet) such a possibiliy to get rid of this horrible no-brainer typeface they force onto me.
A little research reveals: the web is full of complaints about the bad design of the new OS’s graphic interface. All type appears far too small on the screen. The system typeface looks dull and abhorrent and it’s legibility is very poor. The app icons look flat, childish, silly and boring. Windows and menu bars look anemic and fishy. To summarize: This is not an Apple Macintosh anymore.
These questions I want to forward to Apple:
- Why has Lucida Grande has been abandoned at all? It is an excellent face, proved its power as a system font for about a decade.
- Why does a piece of 12p text, in 100% mode, appears as being 8p ?
- Why a Helvetica-offspin, why such backwards tinking and obsession for the worst typography has ever seen?
- Why departing from the ethos of good design quality, why treat your faithful users so badly?
- When will I get back Lucida Grande on my Mac?
Yes, I’m upset about this. I feel this hurts, it gets very close to physical violence (hey, its my eyes!
Apple people: please listen. Please review your rationale behind those decisions and get back to good practice, good design, good treatment of your clients, good typography. If you want to be credible as stakeholders of design excellence, then you must change this. The state as it is right now is inacceptable.
Send in your own comments here:
I do not like some of the changes in Big Sur (stuff is only reveled on mouse over or the borderless buttons in toolbars), but the typography is more or less unchanged from the last releases, at least in my setup. Do you have an external monitor by a different vendor where the pixels per inch do not match what the Mac OS expects?
Regarding SF replacing Lucida Grande: try it. I do not want to sound condescending, but it took me a few days to rebalance when they switched and I have not had any experiences of physical violence since then. Plus, the matching SF Mono and the optical sizes of SF are nice.
I've gotten used to it. While it does look visually cleaner, it's at the expense of usability and clarity. Steve Jobs used to say that design is how it works, not how it looks. I think the UI people at Apple have forgotten this.
The annual Apple developer conference is today, where they announce new OS versions. Hopefully, we'll see some improvements in the macOS UI (a lot of people have complained about the changes in Big Sur), but I bet we'll still be stuck with San Francisco for a while.
But a lot of corporations that start out as an edgy brand—a good way to get one’s foot in the door—once they become the Big Dog, they switch positioning, to be all things to all people, considering that their duty.
Apple changed from being a trade equipment supplier to being a consumer product manufacturer (with the iPod, IIRC), so it’s not surprising, really.
Also I don't think well-designed applications should 'break' when confronted by an unexpected missing font (assuming by 'break' you mean crash as opposed to suffering from aesthetic glitches which a user can decide whether they are willing to tolerate or not).
Over the years, Apple has steadily increased the number of fonts which are considered 'essential' fonts* simply because one or two apple applications might use them (seriously -- why should MarkerFelt be a required system font?) which can lead to rather unwieldy font menus. I think it would be preferable for applications to be able to gracefully fall back on what's available so those who dislike cluttered menus can keep a more minimal set of fonts active.
*I'm still on Mojave, but my /System/Library/Fonts contains 127 items, many of which are .ttc files containing multiple fonts. Many of these aren't *actually* required despite their location, but removing them requires disabling SIP and they get added back with every security update so I stopped bothering.
SF is not just used for text, but also icons. The aptly named SF Symbols (https://developer.apple.com/sf-symbols/) are glyphs in the system fonts to match font size, font weight, optical size, and baseline alignment with text labels. A custom font does not include these icons and a fallback mechanism would not be able to match icons with the custom font.
That's not possible on microcomputers, because they need some font to display text on the screen. E. g. on minimal installation media for Linux (Debian/Ubuntu) it switches very early screen resolution and font (more than one), then after choosing language installs additional fonts (they only contain the glyphs needed for the installer). And then come some fonts with the installation, and more fonts with a graphical interface.
But I agree, in Linux you can change the fonts to some degree. Not sure about the fonts used in the menus of Gnome and KDE.
On Mac it's important for to choose fonts, size and colours in applications, especially editors. I need full coverage of Unicode in terminal and editors. And the fixed width fonts must be well legible.
Maybe a matter of taste, but the SF just works for me and is well readable at small sizes.
Wait till they see the abomination that is the New York font.