User ExperienceA Closer Look at the Visual Aspects of Mac OS Big Sur

A Closer Look at the Visual Aspects of Mac OS Big Sur

I didn’t imagine I would ever write something about a new Mac Update. Yes, they are often an improvement of the last version, but not amazing enough to write about. Until today.

With the arrival of Big Sur, I was pretty stoked (to be honest, it was an hour ago that I opened my laptop to check new looks). I thought it looked so much better in many aspects. As a designer who is pretty consciously thinking about design all the time, I knew that our opinion of what beauty is, changes all the time, based on so many influences all around us. Yet I wondered, why do I like this new look so much more? What design principles are at the foundation of this style? And why didn’t I notice the old version could be better? And finally, am I applying these new principles (if applicable at all) in my own daily designs?

I collected 5 screenshots, both before and after (still got an iMac with the old version). Let’s analyse them.


Big Sur Visual Change #1: The Menu Bar and the Dock

  • Both fonts in the Menu Bar are about the same size, with a little extra tracking (space between characters)
  • Obviously, Big Sur has a dark top bar instead of white. Yet it’s more transparent and the colours seem more present.
  • The Dock is way more round and feels a lot more friendly.
  • When zoomed in there is a lot of detail going on. A closer darker shadow and a larger more blurred shadow. And an inner white shadow of only a few pixels.
  • Icons have more depth & shadows, making them more friendly as well.
  • The dock isn’t touching the side, but rather floating. Not sure why or what the thinking could have been. Perhaps to enhance the idea of depth in the entire interface. Feels nice.

Big Sur Visual Change #2: Finder Window


The finder window I find more interesting, a lot of new stuff going on here. And a lot we can learn from as well!

  • To start off with: The old top part used to be a build-up from two rows. One row with the close button & the finder window name. After that a second row with all the icons. They now combined everything within a single row, creating room for some extra space above and below the icons, making the design more clean and spacious.
  • After some inspection, they very slightly increased the space between the text list on the left.
  • The icons have been made a little smaller as well. Combined with the previous note resulting in more space around the list items.
  • The overall color palette of the finder window used to be a lot more grey. Whenever I give people any feedback on designs, I always mention grey makes things look old school. I wonder why I never notice this in the previous Mac OS. Never ever do I see anyone design with the grey color from the old finder window…
  • Again more space: between groups of list items on the left. At the bottom left you see “iCloud”: the space on top there is larger than before. Nice. I like more space. Just like Elon Musk.
  • The icons are now floating, instead of being placed in a little box. I understand this choice in the previous version though. Because they have two rows of items, with lots of details going on, they needed the boxes to prevent a chaotic look. With everything placed in one row they no longer need them.
  • The shadow seems a little smoother; extending further away from the window.


Big Sur Visual Change #3:  Safari


In Safari we basically see the same things happening: less grey, more whitespace, larger elements such as the top bar in safari & floating icons rather than boxed ones. Awesome.


Big Sur Visual Change #4: Bluetooth Dropdown



About this change, I was really excited. I never thought of the previous version as ugly. But with this new dropdown: damn, what a difference! What’s happening here?



  • They ditched the dark triangle icons. Interesting. I had discussions with clients before, whether you need arrow icons in a list like this. Guess apple thought you don’t.
  • The separator lines no longer reach from left to right but have some space on both sides. I guess space is a repetitive theme here.
  • They turned some text into icons that don’t need text. They replaced “turn off Bluetooth” with a simple icon. Makes sense. Yet they did need to put a title there saying “Bluetooth” to make that work.
  • More space between the items. Again.
  • With the white Menu Bar gone at the top: the dropdown floats a lot more now. Now very much feeling like it’s floating on top of the interface. It’s only until just now I noticed that the old version has no rounder corners at the top.

Final Notes

I removed some other examples because they are mostly a repetition of design choices.

  • Overall, it’s a lot more white: they removed many grey tones. Something we can directly apply in our daily work too.
  • Whenever the light tones are used, they are a bit more transparent, giving a glimpse of your awesome wallpaper you searched for hours and change every week. Or is that just me?
  • Most corners are a lot more rounded, making it very friendly, yet not childish. A trend we’re seeing at Dribbble as well. Also, something that really matched the 3D trend going on.
  • Best learning: By creating more space and a more minimal design (by removing the redundant icons in the finder window for example), they could let go of boxing all the icons. This was no longer needed to create order or prevent chaos.

I missed any important stuff? Let me know?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll up Drag View