Note (Oct 2023): The names of the buttons have been changed again in the SDK in macOS Sonoma - I will update the blog post again once I have Sonoma on one of my Macs :)
Back in October 2014 I wrote a post about different styles of NSButtons.
That was in the era of OS X Yosemite and Xcode 6. I started researching what each kind of button available in Interface Builder was for, because I couldn’t figure that out from Xcode and the built-in documentation - I dug a bit into the Human Interface Guidelines, some older documentation archives and into Apple apps themselves. I collected everything into a long post that went through all the button styles and described what I could find about each one.
It seems that a lot of people also had the same problem, because the post turned out to be extremely popular. It’s around #3 in total page views on this blog, and 7 years and 7 major macOS versions later it still usually comes out #2 in monthly or yearly stats and still gets a couple hundred visits a month. Even with greatly improved documentation in Xcode and much expanded content in the modern HIG, there’s clearly demand for this kind of information collected in one place.
However, the post was kind of asking to be updated for a long time now… The original screenshots were made in 1x quality, since I didn’t get a Mac with a Retina screen until the end of 2016. Big Sur was released in the summer of 2020, significantly changing the design of the OS, and making Catalina suddenly look outdated (to the point that I’ve seen some people already call the Yosemite-Catalina era design “classic macOS”!). Some new button variants were added, some older buttons were no longer used in system apps the way I presented them, and the button styles available in Xcode were no longer shown and described as shown on screenshots from Xcode 6.
The Big Sur launch seemed like a great moment to give that post a refresh, and I started working on it at the end of last year, but then 2021 came and this year turned out to be kind of rough - surprisingly more so than 2020… as it was for a lot of people, I suppose. I only managed to get back to this project this month.
I thought it would take maybe a week or two… it took around three in total 😬 That included setting up new Mavericks and Yosemite installations in VirtualBox to get updated Retina screenshots from there, building a number of versions of a sample app full of all kinds of buttons that I took a ton of screenshots of on several macOS versions, cutting every screenshot pixel-perfect to size a few times, merging different versions of the same information from a few different sources, including versions of HIG going as far back as 2006, looking through Apple apps searching for buttons, and view-debugging some of them with SIP turned off to check what controls were used there… whew 😅
I’m really happy with the result though. This is now by far the longest post on the blog, with around 11k words total (although around 1/3 of that is just quotes) and around a hundred images. I expanded a lot of the content, adding some things I hadn’t thought about last time and clarifying some that I hadn’t fully understood after I found some new information - and each button now has three different screenshots, sometimes even four:
Of course I’ve also learned a few new things myself and organized the information better in my head again, which is always my primary motivation when writing this kind of blog posts :) After Big Sur I don’t expect a next massive redesign for another few years, so I probably won’t need to repeat this anytime soon - but if macOS 13 or 14 changes some minor things here and there, I’ll try to keep the post up to date.