Why brushed-metal is bad (in some cases)

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
July 24th, 2003 • 1:48 am

I have already ranted about Apple’s use of the brushed-metal look before. Here’s a perfect illustration of the problem.

I constantly switch between applications: Safari, Mail, the Finder, BBEdit, etc. And I also often take my eyes off the screen for a few seconds, to read something on my desk or see exactly where I am on the keyboard. (I am not a professionally-trained typist.) So I don’t always know where I am.

But usually a quick look at the screen tells me where I am. The problem with the brushed-metal look is that there isn’t enough visual distinction between brushed-metal windows that are in the foreground and brushed-metal windows that are in the background. So I take a quick look at the screen, see the brushed-metal, think I am in Safari, switch my eyes to to the keyboard to type cmd-N to create a new window in Safari and… when I look at the screen, I see that I have created a new window in… the Finder.

This all happens in a second or two, of course. I only look at the screen for a fraction of a second to determine where I am. If I looked for a longer time, I would see that the name of the current application in the menu bar is not Safari. Or I would see that all brushed-metal windows have inactive close/minimize/maximize boxes. But if I look too quickly, I only catch a glimpse of the currently open windows, and a Safari window with inactive boxes doesn’t necessarily mean that Safari itself is in the background. (It can be in the background in Safari itself.)

Granted, the lack of distinction between windows in the background in the foreground application and windows in the background in a background application is not limited to the brushed-metal appearance. But it further explains why brushed-metal doesn’t help, and is, in certain situations, a source of too much visual confusion.

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