MacOS Big Sur is Flat Design Gone Crazy

Flat design is being taken to extremes causing loss of usability. Being trendy has become more important than being functional.

Erik Engheim
7 min readMar 11, 2021


I have many issues with macOS Big Sur but in this story I will focus on the UI design choices which have been made. In short, I am disappointed. This is not the Apple I know and love.

Years ago, I wrote this guide on Icon Design: The No Bullshit Guide to Icon Design and Usage.

It was a result of frustrations from bad icon design at one of my former workplaces heavily inspired by Microsoft’s poor understanding of what constitutes good icon design. Born out of seeing Microsoft icons looking like this:

My story was in many ways an ode to Apple’s ability to carefully think through UI design. Yet today it almost feels as if they read that article and decided that they should do everything opposite of what I commended them for doing. These are what Apple’s keynote toolbar icons used to look like:

Apple Keynote toolbar icons back in 2017. Clearly visible outlines. Similar looking shapes referring to very different actions have distinct colors. E.g. compare “Play” and “Rehearse”

I contrasted these icons with Microsoft icons where there was clearly no thought that had gone into color choices or shapes, because every icon is basically blue, gray and white.

Icons doing very different things have similar silhouette and color choices.

You can see that the Microsoft icons at a glance all look like boxes. That means distinguishing them from each other is not easy. Apple also had icons that were similar looking in shape such as Table, Shape and Guides. However, Apple gave each of them a clearly distinct color, making it easier to distinguish them. Table is yellow, Shape is green and Guides is blue. Here is a challenge for you. See if you can distinguish the Table and Guides icon in macOS Big Sur.

An ocean of gray sameness. Where is the distinction? Where are the colors that make distinct icons pop out?



Erik Engheim

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.