Bill Fernandez Design
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Appearance Themes Prototype
Apple Computer, Inc. -- 1992

"What if users could design their own appearance themes, and make the user interface look any way the wanted?" In the summer of 1992, Bill set out to answer this question, and with the help of a summer programming intern he designed and built a working extension to the Mac OS that actually made this possible. Once this machinery was in place, artists could create quite exotic appearance themes without having to do any programming, and users could just drop one file for each theme into a special folder and choose between them with a control panel. If the experiment had continued, the next step would have been to prototype a theme editor that could be used by end-users.

Theme designers had control over the appearance of window frames, controls (buttons, scrollbars, etc.), and menu fonts.


Samples of Functioning Themes



A Few Suggestions

As a result of his experimentation Bill made several suggestions, most of which eventually found their way into the Mac OS:

  • Make it possible to temporarily set aside a window. (Added as WindowShade in (approx.) Mac OS 7.5)
  • There should be a solid border around the entire window frame, and users should be able to drag windows from any side. (Added in Mac OS System 8.0.)
  • Add an icon to the titlebar of each folder and document window. Let users perform the same operations with these icons that they can with icons on the desktop. (Added in Mac OS System 8.5.)
  • Add live dragging. (Added in Mac OS System 8.5.)
  • Add live scrolling. (Added in Mac OS System 8.5.)
  • Let windows be resized from any corner. (not yet in Mac OS.)
  • Use color-coding in window frames to show: which windows belong to each application, which are on locked volumes, or which are from remote servers. (not yet in Mac OS.)

Odds and Ends

Bill created a variety of different themes: Psychedelic, Stone, Parchment, Grass, Wood grain, Egyptian, Adobe, Pastel, Steel...


It takes a lot of individual pieces of art to create a theme. For example, a simple window with scrollbars requires 28 separate pieces:


Heavily colored window frames just don't look right without a continuous border all the way around:


Sometimes 3D controls look much better than 2D controls:


Inactive windows just don't look right unless they're colored too:



Colored frames beg for colored contents:



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