A Closer Look At Apple’s Icons


itunes_icons_blockAs a follow-up to my article on the hidden gems of Apple’s design, and inspired by the comments that you, the readers, left, I wanted to take a closer look at some of the icons of OS X. In a follow-up article I will check out some of the hidden messages and “easter eggs” that Apple (s aapl) has hidden in its icons, but first, I felt it was important to revisit the history of some of these icons that we see on a daily basis.

Icon Garden

Any discussion of Apple’s icon design should begin with a discussion of some of Apple’s most infamous 8-bit icons from its original GUI. Apple used to feature large versions of these in its icon garden at 1 Infinite Loop, however at some point around 1998, Apple removed the icons. Featured amongst the garden were classic icons, such as the eraser, hand, stopwatch, and even Clarus the Dogcow. (Moof!)

Check out how the paint bucket is "filling" the grass with green and the paint brush and pencil have just finished "creating" the flowers.

Check out how the paint bucket is "filling" the grass with green and the paint brush and pencil have just finished "creating" the flowers.

Whoa! The eraser is erasing the flowers!

Whoa! The eraser is erasing the flowers!

Similar Colors

Depending on how cluttered your Dock is, you may or may not have noticed that the most prominent colors chosen by Apple for its icons is from the blue family. This trend was originally favored in Apple’s hardware (the original Bondi blue iMac, for instance). Associated with the sky or the ocean (a la OS X’s original UI codename Aqua), the blue also evokes a sense of stability, trust and calmness. (It really does make the infamous Blue Screen of Death a lot less harsh than if it were red.) It wasn’t until the release of Leopard that Apple shipped with a default desktop background that wasn’t blue.

The Dock with Blue Icons

Evolution of Icons

Some icons in OS X have evolved over time. Occasionally there may be some rhyme and reason to changing icons, such as the inclusion of the video camera for when iChat AV was originally launched, or the major redesign of iMovie between iMovie HD and iMovie ’08.

The Evolution of iChat and iMovie

Other times, icons are seemingly changed sporadically, like the evolution of the iTunes icons. Originally every new version came with a new icon, but even that trend has wavered.

The Evolution of iTunes

Other applications have also seen different icons with new versions, such as Backup, iDVD, iPhoto and Keynote. Though the Keynote icon has not seen a drastic change since Keynote ’08, the version that ships with iWork ’09 updates the date of the fourth-quarter report on the icon to Q4 2009.

The Evolution of Keynote & Backup

Alternative Uses

Some icons depict their contents, such as the icon for a photo or a typeface. Other icons present users with dynamically updating information, such as the iCal icon which changes to reflect the current date. Other icons “change” by badges that indicate various information (unread emails, download speeds, etc.).

Another example are icons for exported vCards. If you have set them up in Address Book, they will export with their photo in the icon.

vCard Icons

With the introduction of Snow Leopard this fall, users will once again begin to find new uses for icons, as the operating system allows users to preview media directly on the icon itself.

Bonus iPhone Icon

If you haven’t had a chance yet to take your iPhone or iPod touch into Starbucks, when you do, you’ll notice a new icon in your iTunes Store app. Specifically the Starbucks icon, and it is the only navbar icon on the device that exists in full color and not the usual masked blue color as typically seen.

Starbucks On iPhone

Have you noticed any other unique or interesting icon changes or features?

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