2 Easy Workarounds for Yosemite’s Transparency

Yosemite's translucent design is welcomed by a few and scary to the rest of us. People are concerned that this level of design detail is needless and illogical, breaking from design that reflects the real world. What goes on in vibrancy is very unnatural to the naked eye, so it’s confusing to many reasonable power users.

Apple calls the visual effect ‘vibrancy’, where you see color bleeding through the window.

I think I have a helpful solution. But first, let’s consider what Apple intended the visual window/wallpaper effect to accomplish. John Siracusa explains in his review of OS X Yosemite:

Apple has offered many different justifications for this aspect of Yosemite’s new look. In the WWDC keynote, Craig Federighi explained in-window blending in the Finder—icons scrolling “behind” the toolbar—by saying, “The use of translucent materials gives you a sense of place as you scroll your content.” Given the > disappearing scroll bars> introduced in Lion, a vague, colored haze showing through the toolbar may indeed be the only indication that more content is available above the currently visible region, but I’m not sure how strong that signal will be to most people.

Federighi also described translucency as a tool for visual customization. “Now your windows take on the personality of your desktop. As you change your desktop picture, your window adapts to reflect that personality and that temperature.” This works best if there’s nothing between a window and the desktop background. The strongest influence on the “personality and temperature” of a window on a busy OS X system is the content of some other window, which is more difficult to control than the desktop picture.

Representing the designers’ endeavors, Federighi made a noble attempt to give grounds for translucency. On the one hand, I like the level of creativity that was exercised to produce a new style for the Mac operating system. Sometimes, I look at vibrancy taking place and it puts a smile on my face. Most of the time, though, vibrancy doesn’t work well in practice. It causes visual dissonance. I think many everyday people will dislike it as much as the pickier artistic crowd.

On the other hand, vibrancy does appeal to me. It has caused me to reconsider the fundamentals. I’m asking myself who said you can’t break from the natural order and why? Not everything has to mimic reality to be visually appealing, and not all aesthetics need to match my tastes to be enjoyable. If the entire OS X experience was comfortable and right to my tastes all the time, I would probably get bored with it. A little friction is healthy. It’s illogical, but it’s one way that design holds our interest.

Anyone can easily turn off translucency, or at least most of the effect that you’ll notice.

If you are not interested in creative friction, then there are two solutions. For one, you can reduce transparency from the System Preferences > Accessibility > Display menu. Check off Reduce transparency. Most all of the color will drain out of the vibrant Sidebar. The Dock and Menu Bar will be brighter (more opaque and white). Even Safari’s Toolbar will be a solid gray as you scroll webpages. I think this is the solution for most people.

Solid Color Background Images

Here’s an alternative solution for people that want color from vibrancy, but not all the color you get from highly colorful backgrounds.

The Solid Color backgrounds are a reasonable option if you want a little color from vibrancy.

Consider using a solid color background wallpaper. Yosemite has a few folders of different types of backgrounds in System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver:

  • Desktop Pictures
  • Nature
  • Plants
  • Art
  • Black & White
  • Abstract
  • Patterns
  • Solid Colors

Maybe the real problem is the wallpapers you’re using. Could it be you have grown accustom to intrusive backgrounds? Why are you making allowance for them but not transparency? And ask yourself how much time you see your desktop. If the answer is almost never, because you mostly have windows filling your screen, then you don’t need some artistic background anyway.

Not many people would be interested in the last folder under Desktop & Screen Saver. The muted colors are boring, reminiscent of drab office colors. But to the extreme, the unbearable ones are the pale lavender and white wallpapers — there is no excuse for them! If you preview the white desktop background, you should note that text on the desktop (file names) are very hard to read, because the text is always white with a drop shadow.

The rest of the wallpaper colors make some sense. Using one of the muted blue backgrounds vibrancy will be easy on the eyes. Window toolbars and sidebars are kept plain and uniform with a subtle amount of the color of your choosing.

Click the Custom Colors button to choose your own.

And if you don’t like any of the 12 colors that the Mac has to offer, click the Custom Color button. Using the system Colors tool, choose any color to suit your preference. This is one of the handiest ways to customize the background of your desktop. On the one hand, it seems fussy to choose a custom color wallpaper, but if you don’t mind a very simple background, then vibrancy becomes a non-issue that still adds character to your Mac.

Joe Darnell

Joe is a UI and graphic designer with prior experience as the creative director for three media-based businesses. Joe’s passionate about web design and graphic design with about 15 years of experience in the media industry. Additionally, Joe is the host of the Top Brew and Techtonic podasts, both featured on iTunes.