User Interface: Drop Shadow

Paul Miller, The Verge:

But it’s not just functionality, there’s something deeper that bugs me, about the decorations themselves. Like the ubiquitous drop shadow. “Did you know that this window is on top of this window?” it whispers to me, endlessly. Apple’s love of reflections and faux 3D subtly imply to me that I might be lost, needing landmarks and a sense of place to find my way.

Ben Brooks:

He also has some idiotic points about not needing window shadows — umm yeah we don’t need them, but we also like for our UI to not look like shit.

I’m with Miller; I dislike window drop shadows as they are implemented on OS X Lion. I think the shadows are too thick and looking through online discussions they are 40 pixels thick. I’m not a designer, but I don’t think I would use 40-pixel thick drop shadows on anything. Since there doesn’t seem to be a way to reduce the thickness I have decided a while ago to get rid of them.

I searched high and low to find a lightweight app to disable them on OS X Lion. I thought I found it in Nocturne by Blacktree, but it only partially does the trick: Shadows are disabled only when in ‘Night’ mode and when in that mode the background turns white. I like my background black, so back to searching I went. I kept Nocturne because it has a few other nifty UI tricks like hiding the desktop and the menu bar. Do you really need the menu bar to be visible 100% of the time?

After searching and reading through forums for a while I found what looked like wouldn’t work on Lion: ShadowKiller by Unsanity. It states it isn’t compatible with OS X 1.6 Leopard. So the reasoning goes it wouldn’t work with Lion, but I gave it a try anyway. Good thing I did. Window drop shadows are a thing of the past for me, and good riddance.

All UI elements pertaining to windows visually end at the edges of the window. The visual feeling I get is the satisfaction of having cut off unnecessary fat. There’s also a certain cleanliness to it. This is how it should be and how I like it. I think I prefer no drop shadows at all to thinner drop shadows. But there’s a reason.

About 99% of the time I interact with windows that are flush; I almost never interact with free floating windows. I use an app called DoublePane by 5am Code to position windows one of three ways: left half, right half, full screen. And it is because I use windows this way that zero drop shadows work so well for me. Free floating windows don’t work quite well without any type of border; what I think would work brilliantly is a single pixel border in light grey.

When it comes to UI my preference is less. Always less. Through a few other apps I’ve disabled most animations on Lion. On Safari I’ve hidden every single bar (Toolbar, Bookmarks Bar, Status Bar); I use keyboard shortcuts instead. I use Alfred by Running with Crayons to launch apps, look up words, google, etc. If I could I’d get rid of the Dock; there’s very little need for it. I’m a minimalist when it comes to UI. So, regarding window drop shadows: Apple implemented 40-pixel thick drop shadows in Lion. That’s way too thick and makes the UI look less elegant. Although I wouldn’t object to thinner, say three pixels wide, drop shadows I haven’t found a way to do that. So I’m running drop shadow-less windows on Lion and loving it.