Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Seeing gray


The Internet’s Dr. Drang points out a weird interface change in Big Sur:

The M1 MacBook Air is the only machine I have running Big Sur, and for the first few days I kept wondering why certain commands were disabled. They weren’t—I was confused about their status because the gray keyboard shortcut was catching my eye and the black command name wasn’t. It wasn’t until I slowed down and looked at the menus carefully that I noticed the contradictory text coloring.

I’ve been using Macs since 1985, and gray text in a menu item has _always_meant “disabled.” This was true even though early Macs didn’t have true gray. Among Mac users, “grayed out” is a synonym for “disabled” and has been for ages. Now, because looking cool is taking precedence over clear communication, we have menu items that tell us the command is available but the keyboard shortcut isn’t.

I always sensed that something was wrong in Big Sur’s menus, but I thought it was the strange decision to have curved edges on the top portions of the drop-down, which breaks the metaphor that they’re connected to the solid edge of the menu bar. But graying out (and that is absolutely what I call it) keyboard shortcuts is also weird and wrong.


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