It’s Mac OSX update day today and while there’s some good stuff in there (and, more importantly, no terribly ill-concieved stuff) theres also a major visual overhaul in this that is called Yosemite. Which, since we’re visual creatures, means everything is wrong. At least for a few days until we don’t notice it anymore.
But there is one thing I can see I’m going to have trouble with. The icon for the Finder (which, for non-Mac users, is the catchall term for the file system). Here’s the old one and the new one next to each other:
It was only when I saw this comparison that I realised what was wrong. They both show the same thing – a face that is actually two faces, one in profile in front of the other. But the old one is an abstraction. It could be a faces or it could just be some geometric lines. The two blues are much softer too. It feels like something that has accidentally formed a face, or two faces.
The new icon is definitely a face. Even the old duck-rabbit trick of the two faces has been softened to push forward the smiley. As chum Helen said, “I feel like it’s laughing at me”. The old icon wasn’t doing anything at you. It was just there.
Humans love faces. We see them everywhere, which is why the old icon works so well. It can be a subtle arrangement of lines and colours and we’ll still see a the face. But the new icon is a smiley face, no question about it.
Considering this is supposed to represent the file system and not the Mac as a whole, it does feel a little odd that the personality thing should be emphasised. The Smiley face was once the computer itself. Now it’s the directory structure.
Simple cartoon faces get meanings attached to them, and that meaning can be very subtle and nuanced. If you don’t believe me look at these collections of simple lines:
What’s interesting about those two is when I was searching for examples I came across a lot of fan art by people trying to copy the originals and, for the most part, it stood out a mile. Not because they were bad but because even the slightest variance in the lines can dramatically change the meaning we attach to the face.
Using a face to represent something, especially something abstract like a file system, is fraught with danger. Faces are important to us. We trust people based on their faces. We go to war with people based on their faces. We honestly believe that we can tell if someone is telling the truth by looking into their eyes, which is palpably nonsense but that’s how important faces are to us.
Before today I could pretend the Finder icon wasn’t a face and treat it like every other colourful blob on the screen when I Cmd-Tabbed to another app. Now there’s this face, this representation of The Other, smiling at me.
Who are you? What do you want?
It’s very disturbing.