Changed my mind about the CS3 icons

Adobe CS3 Icons in the Dock

In response to my Dad’s curiousity about some people talking about the new CS3 icons (one didn’t like them and linked to Adam Betts’s replacements: Betts CS3) I wrote this:

Good question.

Icons are a passionate topic for many Mac users. Mac icons have always been better than Windows icons, with the capability of being larger and having more colors and generally appealing more to discerning users (like many of the features of the Mac OS). This general trend has continued throughout the years and grown with the technology up to Mac OS X’s current and long standing ability to display icons with resolution of up to 128×128 pixels. (Vista finally catches up and surpasses the Mac by allowing 256×256 pixel icons, but does not have as well an established history, design language, nor guidelines as the Mac, and when October comes around will again be surpassed by 10.5’s ability to show 512×512 icons).

Additionally, the ability to easily customize an Application or indeed the entire Operating System’s icons has long been a feature of the Mac OS. Just Get Info on an icon, and copy and paste another icon to customize it to your liking. Popular companies such as the Iconfactory and individual designers (including me now and then) have been making cool replacement icons for years. There is even an iPhoto like program to catalog our custom icon collections called Pixadex.

This helps explain why such an intense debate broke out earlier this year when Adobe revealed their new icon system:
Adobe Software icons

Apparently the creation of the former Macromedia design team (now part of Adobe after the merger), the current color schemes of the large stable of applications now under Adobe’s roof were laid out on a color wheel and given a common typographic style. Criticisms were the order of the day, and designers and technologists lambasted Adobe for, amongst other things, essentially not designing the icons at all, turning icon design into a stale periodic table instead of an art form, and worse.

I was inclined to agree at the time. The icons all look very similar, and it seemed like they had indeed made a lame effort that would also prove to become a barrier to usability as users spent more time reading icons than looking at them at a glance to tell them apart and find the application they were looking for. Corporate branding appeared to have won out over truly usable and useful design (again). Not to mention they had abandoned the history of art alluded to and represented by Illustrator’s Venus icon as it had progressed over the years (actually already lost in CS and CS 2) and just cool expressive illustrations in general. Letters in a box? This is what the design team of the world’s leading producer of design software comes up with? Come on!

I’ve since changed my mind though. I now think the bold colors and square icons are really strong and stand out well. It’s easy to find the CS3 apps from all the other programs you may be running, especially when using the keyboard shortcut Apple -Tab to quickly switch through apps. The brightness and shape help the CS3 apps stand out, and the color is quick to get used to if you use them frequently as most people involved in digital production will.

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