No matter what you think about Windows 11 as a whole, whether it’s about functionality, utility or even a reason to upgrade, there’s no denying that the OS looks gorgeous. It’s clear that Microsoft spent a lot of time and effort making sure that Windows 11 looks like a modern piece of software elegant enough to stand its own against the likes of MacOS and Android. Apart from refreshed iconography and the infamous rounded corners, the subtle nuances of the design material is what elevates the UI to next levels.
Fluent UI and Mica material
Windows 11 is built on the foundation of Fluent Design System. Fluent Design System serves as the framework for Fluent UI which Windows 11 uses in every corner of the OS. Fluent UI is what constitutes the overall look of Windows 11, everything from the entirely reworked applications to new transparency effects, it’s all Fluent UI. Speaking of which, there isn’t just one type of transparency effect in Windows 11. The OS cleverly uses transparency to show hierarchy between different elements and for that it relies on Mica material.
Mica material is a part of Fluent UI but it works differently than the Fluent transparency effect. Fluent’s default transparency effect is Acrylic. You see this in context menus, flyouts, and pop-outs throughout the OS. It creates a translucent effect similar to that of frosted glass. When on screen, Acrylic blurs the element and lets the background, whether that be the desktop wallpaper or an application window, shine through in a very subtle manner.
On the other hand, Mica is a less forgiving material that’s closer to opaque than transparent. It blurs elements of the app to only show the background, your wallpaper, but in a more muted style where you can barely make it out. Mica does not let anything except the wallpaper shine through. For example, the Settings app is basically just a big window made from Mica material so it reflects your wallpaper throughout. But, if you put the same window over any other app, it will simply ignore that and keep showing only the wallpaper as part of the transparency effect.
Mica is the prevalent design material in Windows 11. It’s present almost everywhere and apps like Settings are made up entirely of Mica. Whereas, some apps only have their title bars in Mica material. Acrylic, on the other hand can only be seen in pop-up menus and the like but since its more reactive than Mica, it actually consumes more resources and some low-powered PCs might have problems running it. Mica only samples your wallpaper so that runs without any hassle and doesn’t make your device slower.
Microsoft loves Mica
Most apps in Windows 11 don’t use a transparency effect for the whole window like Settings. They instead only use Mica in the title bar to create a sense of visual hierarchy. Many apps that’ve already seen Windows 11 updates, such as PowerToys, Photos, and Paint, have gotten a new Mica material title bar but it seems that Microsoft is insistent on making it even more prevalent throughout the OS.
The next major Windows 11 update is said to bring Mica material to a lot more applications both in form of title bars and full on Mica-materialized background similar to the Settings app. We know this because many apps are already starting to pop up with Mica title bars in preview builds of Windows 11. You can see below the Feedback Hub and Tips app have now been latently updated with Mica title bars in some early Dev Channel builds. Even in the latest Beta Channel build, both of these apps are still rocking the normal title bar with no transparency effect whatsoever.
Latest Beta Channel build:
Apart from these native Windows 11 apps, Microsoft Office is also getting the Mica treatment in latest updates. The Fluent UI redesign for Office apps, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook, was announced earlier this year but Mica material was never outlined to be a part of the update. The apps would see a UI refresh which would bring it up to speed and on par with Windows 11’s design language. Most notably, we’d see new toolbars, ribbons and icons along with clearer spacing inside these apps, but not Mica.
However, Office users in the Production Channel received an update yesterday which surprisingly included a lot of Mica material. As you can see above, inside Word, the entirety of the background has been replaced with Mica material that lets the wallpaper shine through, along with the usual Fluent UI tricks. Not only does this new appearance look beautiful, but it also serves a functional purpose a creating a distinction between different layers of the OS. And, the best part? It comes at no extra performance cost whatsoever.