Customize OS X with Lion Designer

good
key review info
application features
  • straightforward user interface
  • (8 more, see all...)

So, you’ve installed one of Apple’s newer OS X versions (i.e. Lion, Mountain Lion) but you’re not happy with some aspects of the operating system, are you? ‘Course you’re not. That’s why you’re here. To get a customization tool that makes OS X more appealing. How about changing the Finder icons back to their old colorful selves? Lion Designer can do it, and then some!

The looks

For an application that deals with design, Lion Designer could use a less crowded UI, but at least it offers all the options you want to customize the look and feel of OS X, for free. Moritz Wette also figured it would appropriate to enable users to toggle the instructions on and off, so that the window looks less clogged.

I can’t decide whether to call it a two-pane interface, because it’s really just a bunch of options separated by a line at one point. There are also three tabs above that should be a lot more visible (use more accentuated fonts and edges).

On the left, you get a fairly large list of areas in OS X where you can make some changes with Lion Designer. For instance, you can change the Mission Control background, or the strange Dashboard background that looks like you’re sitting on a giant Lego block, and even the Notification Center background.

Whether or not you’re happy with the way things are presented in Lion Designer, once you begin personalizing your OS, you really can’t hold a stick at its interface anymore.
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The works

Although it’s called Lion Designer, developer Moritz Wette assures everyone that it works with OS X Mountain Lion too. The app was coded back when Lion was the new kid on the block. Perhaps a name change was in order when version 3.0 came out. But we’ll leave that to Wette to decide. And I’ve tested it on OS X 10.8.1 as well, just for this review. I can confirm that it works, but not without a hiccup or two. Well, it is donationware, after all.

Most of the functions in Lion Designer are quite straightforward, so I won’t waste anybody’s time describing things that really just hit you in the face. For example, I think we can all agree it’s pretty obvious what the “change” buttons do.

But, for the sake of everyone’s understanding, the “change” buttons open up a pathway to a bunch of images in your Wallpaper library. You can choose to browse to any other folder on your system, if you wish to use your own imagery to change those backgrounds.
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The Notification Center background swap was particularly appealing to me (screenshot below). By using a good contrasting color, I actually get a sense of OS X peeling back to let me see something underneath. And it’s really how Apple intended it to work.
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Not happy with the images on your hard drive? No problem. Lion Designer has some of its own to download on the spot. Just go to the Example Manager tab and tick the category you prefer. By all means, download them all if you wish. Just be patient. Depending on your network connection, it may take a while to get them all. My advice: tick them one at a time to see how it goes.
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There’s a nifty little option to clear out all the icons on your desktop too. I can’t think of it as a useful feature without a keyboard shortcut, but it’s there to use.
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And now for a couple of features that I really think Wette could charge a few dollars for. Not that I’m suggesting it. Freeware’s just fine, thank you very much, Mr. developer.

Lion Designer offers the unique ability to speed up or slow down some animations in OS X, such as the Mission Control animation, where all the windows run away and get separated into groups leaving the Dashboard open for access. The cool thing about this tweak is that it actually works to your advantage. Set it to fast and you’ll be able to work Mission Control much faster than before. Does Apple know OS X can do this?

Another animation Lion Designer can tweak is the Dashboard blur. There’s little to no difference there if you’re not using Dashboard once every two minutes or so. Moving on…
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I’ve kept the best for last. I’m sure many of you miss the nice old Finder we used to have in Mac OS X Leopard and Snow Leopard. Those colorful little icons in the services pane on the left…! They really gave you a sense of what each of them did. Now they’re all grey, and unfriendly, just like the new iTunes. Did Apple ask us if we wanted this change? No. Do we? No, many of us don’t.

While there are standalone solutions (scripts) that can bring back the pop, Lion Designer offers the option to revert Finder to its colorful self from within its interface. Admittedly, there are some additional steps to take, but the instructions are really simple. You should get there in a few clicks. Also pay attention to the steps you need to take to keep the settings alive even after a reboot.
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The Good

Lion Designer doesn’t force you to hit a preview button. Everything changes on the fly, so you instantly know if you want to keep your new settings or not. For a system customization tool, that’s really a winning feature. Also the app is free, and works with OS X Lion and Mountain Lion. If you want to make a few quick tweaks to OS X, Lion Designer seems to be the best choice at the moment.

The Bad

As noted above, for an application that does so much justice to design, its interface could really up the ante a bit. Some of the key elements that make up this app are not properly highlighted in its interface, and there are a few bugs that hinder its performance at times. For example, if you close its window you’ll never see it again unless you restart the program. Some graphical glitches might occur from time to time as well, but nothing to affect the behavior of your system (not in my experience, anyway).

The truth

Selling for $0 and offering an endless set of options to personalize your Mac OS, Lion Designer is one of those utilities that simply needs to be tried out. At least to see what the fuss is all about. If you like it, Moritz Wette will greatly appreciate your donation, but you can use it without restrictions if you don’t do charity. And if you don’t like it, there’s that handy “Reset All to Lion Default” button that I totally forgot to mention in this review. After using it you can just uninstall the app and get on with your life.
user interface 2
features 4
ease of use 3
pricing / value 4


final rating 3
Editor's review
good
 
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