Macintosh OS 11 Big Sur: system typeface desaster and related issues

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.

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Comments

  • Read more complaints about this:
    https://discussions.apple.com/thread/252050683?page=1

    Send in your own comments here:
    ttps://www.apple.com/feedback/


  • Monday they will present the next Mac OS (and release it later this year), so I would wait until then to see what changes have already been made to the user interface over the past year.

    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.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 845
    edited June 5
    I tried looking for a screenshot of the latest versions of the Macintosh operating system, and for some reason I could find 10.3 and 10.9, but not Yosemite and Big Sur. It could be I used the wrong search terms. However, I found one shot of part of a Big Sur screen, and I can confirm the typeface is no longer Lucida Grande, and it does look somewhat like Helvetica.
    I think my problem is that since it's version 11.0.1, it isn't "OS X" 11.0.1.
    Ah, yes, that was my mistake.
    I have now seen some examples of screens filled with icons. The text under the icons is indeed very small. Thus, while I personally would not be affected too much by the replacement of Lucida Grande with a Helvetica clone, even if I agree with the aesthetic judgement it is a step backwards, this is indeed a legitimate complaint.
    I have also found that it is indeed genuinely not possible to select a different system font in Big Sur; however, it is possible to increase the size of printing in system menus and under icons and so on. There are, however, four different places where you may need to do this. And in some cases, the only alternative is lowering your screen resolution, which doesn't really count.
    Oh, yes, here's something else: under Big Sur, if you wanted to work with the official versions of Helvetica, Helvetica Neue, or Times New Roman, you now cannot do so, because those font names are locked to the versions of (or substitutes for) those fonts that Apple has pre-installed. That may be an even bigger disaster than what has been discussed for some Macintosh users in the graphic arts.
  • I read something about that one’s individual font activations/handling can cause severe conflicts with built-in fonts, like e.g. Helvetica. The new architecture doesn’t seem to be intended for you managing your font household yourself … Well, a few basic system fonts are essential, of course. But apart from that I want to feel like a client (who knows what is good for him, himself), not like a subject. But Apple seems to like the idea of treating me like a subject, rather a lot. Disappointing, really.
    I could accept a change of the principal system font, if there was a good reason for this and if the new one would be a good one. But, to leave me with a Helvetica and no choice about it, that is just offensive.
  • Nick CookeNick Cooke Posts: 113
    Another thing: why are menu items in grey? that used to indicate an item that was unavailable. 
  • More other things: iTunes (now labeled “Music”) is rotten, it has an awkward UI and crashes loads of individual settings after a restart. Unbelievable. The design of some buttons have grey tones so that one can hardly see wether they are switched on or off.
    In “Mail” the auto-correction keeps working after I have switched it off in the pref.s.

    General, all type is far too small. Much too much space of the screen is wasted dead space (especially in “Music”).
    Sorry – this is going astray here…

    The whole thing looks and feels like some cheap no-name-crap. It is unbelievable.
    Big Sur is a cheek. They seem to want to get rid of me.
    – This is not a Macintosh anymore.
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,358
    edited June 7
    It seems we are suffering through the Alan Dye era at Apple. He's a protege of Jony Ive who's been in charge of UI at Apple since Ive left. Arguably, Ive got the ball rolling in this minimalist direction with iOS 7 in 2013, and it has spread to all of Apple's products. Big Sur in particular has been seemingly designed to look as much as possible like the more widely used iOS and iPadOS.

    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.
  • André G. IsaakAndré G. Isaak Posts: 563
    Putting aside the fact that Lucida Grande was a better GUI font, I’m still mystified that Apple called their replacement ‘San Francisco’. Every Mac aficionado should know that San Francisco was the quirky ransom-note font designed by Susan Kare in 1984.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,371
    I left my heart in San Francisco
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,358
    edited June 7
    I think it was an intentional nod to the past. Too bad their reverence for Macintosh history doesn't go a bit deeper.
  • New York shares the same fate as San Francisco.
  • … Big Sur in particular has been seemingly designed to look as much as possible like the more widely used iOS and iPadOS. 
    Yes that’s true. But was it worth it? To please all the youngsters while, at the same moment, offending the same amount of grown-up high-profile users? How silly is that? A toy is meant to be a toy, but a tool ought to be tool.
    … 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.
    Well put, Mark. However, the look of a product is far from being neglectible. The visible is a core element of identity. As such, it has a function, too.
    And the choice of a principal typeface is at the core of a product like a computer OS. At least with a company like apple. To choose something Helvetica-like for this purpose is a tremendous mistake. It reveals that folks had their hands on the trigger who have no clue to typography at all, because:
    • it looks like the system typeface is missing
    • it looks like worn-out cloth
    • it looks like “nothing”
    • it looks boring
    • it looks like having been designed 1961
    • it does not look like Macintosh
    • its legibility is poor
    Bug Sur looks like the new Mercedes had been given the look of a Bobby Car for 4-year old.

    I fail to imagine that Steve Jobs would have agreed to something like that.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 845
    I've just been checking, and now changing the system font in Windows from SegoeUI to something else requires editing the Registry, whereas in previous versions of Windows one could do it within the Control Panel.
    Of course, at least they are using SegoeUI, and, not, say, Arial, their imitation of Helvetica which isn't even an imitation of Helvetica, being instead based on Monotype Grotesque... but, still, it shows this mentality is not confined to Apple.
    • it does not look like Macintosh
    It does look like Apple. They use SF everywhere. Marketing, packaging, documentation, emails, website, vanity card, user interface, keyboard, laser engraving, displayed on screens from watch to TV. This is also why they need optical sizes. It may not look like a Mac to you, but it does look like Apple.
    • it does not look like Macintosh
    It does look like Apple. … It may not look like a Mac to you, but it does look like Apple.

    that may be so but still: Helvetica (or some of its bastards) always look like nothing. There is no excuse.
    If Apple think they’ll go down that path for longer, they’ll vanish.
    The unique user experience has always been Apple’s one great asset. Now that user experience gets sacrificed on the altar of mediocrity. What will remain of Apple, then??
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,744
    edited June 7
    Andreas is correct. Using a Helvetica clone as one’s corporate face is about as far removed from “Think Different” as possible.

    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.
  • I loath to repeat myself, but: it seems a band of novice-youngsters without a clue about what is eminent have taken over the business of designing the current Apple Macintosh user interface. The ridiculous ‘Helvetica’ matter is but one of the many failures they grace us with. Bug Sur is just a mess, both functionally and aesthetically. They have bombed the whole thing eons back to a state far below the mature reality it has been a few years before. It is not the system typeface conumdrum alone. It is a bunch of desastrous design decisions which reveal to me that there is something fundamentally going wrong in that shop.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 845
    Yes, the use of the wrong typeface is a trivial matter compared to the impairments in functionality and usability also mentioned in this thread.
    Of course, since the Macintosh is far less important to Apple's profitability than the iPhone, they may not care. Fortunately, this doesn't automatically follow. While the company does put more emphasis on looks than function - their latest iMac has come out in multiple different colors again - the ethos of making "insanely great" products does run deep over there, and image and reputation matter to them. So I expect that eventually, if they notice something needs to be done, they'll try to fix some of it... as long as they can do so in a way that doesn't involve admitting a mistake. Of course, the possibility of making things worse instead is nonzero.
  • Apparently they are committed to SF, now introducing SF Arabic: https://developer.apple.com/fonts/


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  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 845
    edited June 7
    Today's WWDC mentioned a new version of the MacOS, called Monterey. The presentation was mostly about new features for iOS, and most of the changes to the MacOS involved additional integration with, or features from, iOS.
    However, one kind of iOS app - Playgrounds apps - can now be developed on the iPad; that is the one announcement that I'd consider exciting. Oh; Swift Playgrounds is a programming-learning iOS app, so presumably those apps can only be used within that.
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,358
    edited June 7
    @Andreas Stötzner Your objection to Apple's system font choice is unfortunately probably a minority position. I've seen more praise of SF than complaints, to be honest. I find it less than ideal, but I don't particularly object to it. After having to put up with for the last several five macOS versions, I don't really notice it anymore. At the same time, I do strongly feel that users ought to be able to change it if they wish. It should at least be an accessibility option.
  • One problem I can see with custom fonts is that apps may depend on the specific features provided by the system fonts. An app might request tabular numbers and build its layout on the assumption that such a feature exists. If the custom font does not offer this feature, then that may break software. SF also offers stylistic sets which are not compatible between two arbitrary fonts (what would enabling ss06 mean for a custom font?)
  • André G. IsaakAndré G. Isaak Posts: 563
    edited June 7
    One thing that annoys me about San Francisco is that its default figures aren’t tabular. I have folders of files whose names begin with dates (YY-MM-DD) and it aggravates me that the Finder displays these as proportional.
  • André G. IsaakAndré G. Isaak Posts: 563
    edited June 7
    One problem I can see with custom fonts is that apps may depend on the specific features provided by the system fonts. An app might request tabular numbers and build its layout on the assumption that such a feature exists. If the custom font does not offer this feature, then that may break software. SF also offers stylistic sets which are not compatible between two arbitrary fonts (what would enabling ss06 mean for a custom font?)
    I can see this being a problem where figure metrics are concerned, but for most other cases I don't really think an application interface should be relying on stylistic sets. It seems reasonable that applications should be able to assume that a certain minimal character set is present in the system font, but I can't see a well-designed interface requiring specific glyph variants.

    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.
  • André G. IsaakAndré G. Isaak Posts: 563
    And on a related note, Apple really should have adopted the practice of giving required fonts like Helvetica, Avenir, Palatino, etc. names like Helvetica OSX, Avenir OSX etc. so it was less of a PITA to install a different version of those fonts.
  • Applications should as far as possible not be dependent on one particular font. Text is text.
    I want the option to change the system font, or at least the display choice for menu items and folder content, to whatever font I like. If that individual change messes something up, that is solely my own problem. But I loath being patronized by someone who suffers from the imagination Helvetica would be healthy for my eyes.
  • Applications should as far as possible not be dependent on one particular font.
    If 99%+ of users use the same system-provided UI fonts, apps will start depending on font features, characters, and metrics. I agree that ideally that would not be that case, but it’s just how developers treat fonts and text.

    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.
  • Applications should as far as possible not be dependent on one particular font. Text is text.

    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. 
  • konrad ritterkonrad ritter Posts: 186
    *whispers*

    Wait till they see the abomination that is the New York font. 
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