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How to Customise Your Mac: 15+ Cool Ways to Do It Quickly


Over the years, Apple has moved to a more minimalist user interface. Out of the box macOS works well enough, but it could use some tweaking. By customising a few settings you can make macOS work better for you.

If you’re wondering if their are cool ways to personalise your macOS, then this is the right article to dig into. You can quickly change your Mac's look and feel. Learn how to customise your Mac—adjusting your macOS preferences to your personal tastes. 

How to Quickly Personalise the Appearance on Your Mac

It's good to personalise a Mac, to make it your own. There are even whole websites dedicated to the theming of Macs. Instead of using third-party tools for different looks, I'll show you what Apple has already provided.

In this tutorial, I'll be using the current version of the operating system, macOS 10.12 Sierra. You'll find that the principles are the same for whichever version you are using, albeit with slight differences. Now let's play with some cool ways to customise your Mac's visual setup.

1. Automatically Change the Wallpaper Every Few Hours, or Days

How to change the Wallpaper on a Mac
How to change the Wallpaper on a Mac.

When it comes to computer metaphors, I've always struggled with the concept of putting wallpaper on the desktop. I suppose changing the tablecloth doesn't have the same feel to it.

To change the wallpaper (or tablecloth), navigate to System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver. You can get there either by using the Apple symbol, , at the top left of the menu bar, or by pressing Command-Space to bring up Spotlight and entering Desktop to find the preference.

Once you've selected a wallpaper image, you have the option to have it automatically change. You can also set the frequency at which the wallpaper changes. Click the tick box to place a tick in the Change Picture: box and use the drop down menu to select the desired interval.

If you prefer, it is possible to have the wallpaper images display randomly. Click the tick box to place a tick in the Random order box.

To keep things organised, use a specified folder in iPhoto to store the wallpaper images. The Desktop & Screen Saver pane always keeps them up to date, so you don’t have to worry about adding one when you download something new. 

Alternatively, you can use any folder on the Mac, so long as it holds more than one image.

2. Use Hot Corners to Activate Screen Savers and Other Things

Using Hot Corners to activate Screen Savers and other things
Using Hot Corners to activate Screen Savers and other things on your Mac.

Whilst in the Desktop & Screen Saver preferences pane, click on the Screen Saver tab to view options for screen savers. At the bottom right there is a button called Hot Corners...

Hot Corners is a macOS system feature that allows you to use the four corners of the screen to invoke certain actions, as defined. It could be to launch a screen saver, open LaunchPad or Notification Centre or something else.

Move the mouse to the defined corner to activate a feature.

3. Add Spacers to the Dock

Using Terminal to create an invisible tile in the dock
Using Terminal to create an invisible tile in the dock.

The dock on your Mac can easily become cluttered with many app icons. If this is the case, adding a space between icons may help to make some sense of things.

The spacers that this command adds are invisible tiles that can be easily removed, if required, by dragging them from the dock.

To enable a blank tile, open up Terminal and enter the following command:

defaults write com.apple.dock persistent-apps -array-add '{"tile-type"="spacer-tile";}'; killall Dock

Once the command has been executed, the dock will momentarily disappear and reload with an invisible tile to create a space. 

The invisible tile can be dragged along the dock to wherever it is required to make a space between icons, or it can be dragged from the dock if it is no longer required.

4. Change the macOS System’s Colour Scheme

Changing the default colour in macOS
Cusomise the default colour in macOS.

If you'd prefer highlighted text to be something other than the default blue, open System Preferences > General and change the Highlight Color: to a different colour.

Along with the eight choices in the menu, you can use the Other... option to select any colour from the colour picker.

There’s another Appearance option here that changes the buttons, menus, and windows of all apps to a more monochrome option called Graphite. Blue and graphite are the only options so if you like a very dull look without those colourful close, minimise and zoom buttons in the window bars, this is for you.

5. Add Dock Magnification, Hide It, and Change Its Position

Changing the characteristics of the dock
Changing the characteristics of the dock on your Mac.

Out of the box, the Mac’s dock does not jump out at you like you may have seen on other Macs. That’s because magnification isn’t enabled.

To enable it, click Apple symbol, , at the top left of the menu bar, select Dock, and click Turn Magnification On

Magnified icons on the dock
Magnified Mac icons on the dock

This menu also gives you the option to hide the dock, which is useful to maximise screen space, especially on smaller laptop screens. When hidden, you can show the dock by moving the cursor to the part of the screen in which it resides.

You can change the location of the dock and place it on the left or right side of the screen. The appearance of the dock will also change if you move it to the sides; it becomes more two-dimensional and reminiscent of OS X 10.4 Tiger.

How to Customise The Menu Bar on Your Mac

Most people don’t use the menu bar to its full advantage. Some apps use it for extra information, but there are some other really creative things you can do with the information there. Let's look at some cool ways to customize your Mac's Menu Bar.

6. Add Seconds and a Date to the Time

Changing the way the time is displayed in the menu bar
Changing the way the time is displayed in the Mac menu bar.

It is possible to display more than just the time on the menu bar. Click the current time and select Open Date & Time Preferences to expand things. In the main tab you will find a place to set the Date & Time

If that’s correct, skip to the Clock tab. Change the time from Digital to Analog, Display the time with seconds, Flash the time separators, Use a 24-hour clock, show or hide the AM/PM indicators, Show the day of the week, Show date on the menu bar and Announce the time on intervals of quarter, half and full hour.

macOS has so many cool time options hidden away. It’s useful to have the date displayed in the menu bar, and seconds can be helpful if you’re hoping to be punctual. Don’t forget that you can change the date format in the Language & Text pane. I’ll talk more about that later.

7. Add Battery Percentage and Life Time

Locating the Battery Status in System Preferences
Locating the Battery Status in your Mac System Preferences.

If you have a portable Mac and the menu bar’s battery indicator is nothing more than an icon, you need to change that to see more information. When plugged in, click it and select Show Percentage to give you a reading charge. Then unplug the MacBook’s charging adapter and test things.

Note: There used to be an option to show how long the battery would last in current use, but it was removed in Mountain Lion. If you’re using an earlier version of OS X, click the battery icon and look for that option. 

Otherwise, a small third-party utility called Battery Time Remaining will bring back the depletion time. It’s available on GitHub.

How to Set Personal Preferences on a Mac

Everyone likes to adjust things to their own special presets. This is the section for the cool little things you can adjust on your Mac.

8. Changing the Action on Inserting a CD or DVD

Changing the Action on Inserting a CD or DVD
Changing the Action on Inserting a CD or DVD.

You may not always want to have DVD Player launch when you insert a video disc into your Mac—provided you even have a drive for that. 

To change the behaviour, open the CDs & DVDs pane of System Preferences. Click whichever function you wish to modify and select “Open other application…” Or, to switch off the feature entirely, select Ignore

You can even Run Script... if you have a custom function.

9. Adjust What Spotlight Searches and How it’s Ordered

Mac Spotlight Privacy settings
Spotlight Privacy settings.

Perhaps you have some private files that don’t need to be listed when searching. If so, you can exclude them from a full system Spotlight query. Here’s how:

  • Launch System Preferences and click Spotlight
  • Click the Privacy tab
  • Click the + button to add a folder or entire disc you don’t want to be displayed

You can also adjust the way Spotlight displays the search results. In the Search Results tab, deselect whatever category you don’t want to see, or drag them into your preferred order. Here you can change the Spotlight shortcut, too.

10. Change the Default Dictionary on Your Mac

Specifying the dictionary resources to use
Specifying the dictionary resources to use on a Mac.

Apple’s Dictionary app is one of the most useful tools on the Mac. It’s simple and gets the job done. 

If you’re like me, however, you enjoy looking up words in a true English dictionary: the British one. To enable an alternate language in the app, head to the Preferences window and check the box of whichever you wish to have in the main window. 

There are ten dictionaries and thesauruses included with the Mac, and two of them are more resources than dictionaries, the Apple one and Wikipedia.

11. Change App Icons on Your Mac

The original Slack app icon
The original Slack app icon.

If you're really into customising on your Mac and making things your own, it is even possible to change the app icons. There are utilities for this, but the process of changing an app’s icon manually on your Mac is fairly straightforward.

Download an icon from the Internet. If it’s a standard .icns file, don’t worry about the next step.

  1. Select the .png or .jpeg icon and open it with Preview. Click Edit, Select All, and then copy the selection. Regular .png files do not work because they don’t always have transparent backgrounds.
  2. Find the app you wish to modify, select it, and click Get Info. You can also press the keyboard combination of Command-I.
  3. Click the small icon in the top left corner of the app and Command-V to paste the new icon.
The modified Slack app icon
The modified Slack app icon.

To remove a custom icon, select the small one in the Get Info window and press the Delete key on the keyboard

manually: This technique works for most apps but may not work for Apple's own apps.

12. Make Finder Open in a Different Folder Than All My Files

Make Finder Open in a Different Folder Than All My Files
Make Finder Open in a Different Folder Than All My Files.

New Macs show the All My Files directory by default when you launch Finder

Personally speaking I don't like that. Fortunately, there’s a way to change it. 

  • Go to Finder’s Preferences, select the General tab.
  • Choose a folder from the drop-down menu below New Finder windows show.
  • Click Other to use any folder on your hard drive.

13. Set Regional Variations on Your Mac

Regional Variations
Regional Variations on a Mac.

If you live in the United States, the date format is at odds with the rest of the world. Perhaps have a preference for changing the format as an ascending DD-MM-YYYY or descending YYYY-MM-DD format makes logical sense. The latter is an ISO standard. You can sort spreadsheets properly on the ISO format, for instance.

It doesn’t have to be that the date must be formatted the same as the rest of the USA. You can customise that, and other things, in the Language & Text pane of System Preferences. Once there, click the Region tab. Here’s a list of what you can do:

  • Make the Week Start on Any Day - Perhaps you'd prefer the calendar week to start on a Monday. Click the drop-down menu beside First day of the week then select the day on which to begin the week.
  • Change the Date Format - Click the Customise button beside the Dates section and reorganise things the way you want them. Apple made things extremely simple so you can drag and drop the values and arrange them however you wish. There’s even an option to add the era, AD.
  • Change the Time Format - Milliseconds are part of time. Apple gives you a choice in the Customise screen of the Times section. Again, it’s a drag and drop process.
  • Modify Currency Separators and Decimal Characters - Some people like the decimals to be commas and commas points. If that’s you, click Customise below the Numbers section and change things up. You can change the values to any character.
  • Move to a New Currency or Measurement Unit - There are options for the currency and measurement units you’re using. There are a lot of currencies, but the measurement units are only offered in UK, US or Metric. The UK is unusual in that it uses a mix of imperial and metric measurements.

How to Customise Your Mac Finder

The macOS file browser deserves to be made your own. Let's look at how to customize it and the cool things you can do to your Mac Finder.

14. Organise Your Folders Automatically

Customising Finder
Customising your Mac Finder.

It’s annoying to see a folder completely disfigured due to bad organisation. Finder has settings for such things, and they’re located in the toolbar. 

Click the button that looks like a small list of icons, as pictured in the screen shot above, and then select whichever method of organisation works for you. Name is the best to use because it always looks in place. 

You can, however, do anything from Kind to Size and Label. Alternatively, drag things off the grid to mess them up a bit.

15. Remove Mounted Discs From the Desktop

Finder Preferences
Adjust your Mac's finder preferences.

Maybe you don’t want to see the CD or an external hard drive cluttering up your desktop. 

To disable it, open Finder’s Preferences and deselect one of the Show these items on the desktop options in the General tab. 

That will remove some unnecessary stuff from the desktop.

16. Bring Back the Status Bar

Returning the status bar to the bottom of the Finder window
Returning the status bar to the bottom of the Finder window

There used to be a status bar, at the bottom of the Finder pane, that displayed the size of a selection, number of files in a folder, and other useful information. 

By default it was removed in OS X 10.7 Lion, but you can always bring it back with a quick keyboard shortcut: Command / (Command Oblique).

Alternatively, click the View menu and select Show Status Bar.

What Cool Mac Customisation Tips Do You Have?

In this tutorial, I've shown you how to customise your mac, organise things better, change the default dictionary, reorder Spotlight results, show off different cool wallpapers, and recover hidden features that were in older versions of OS X

Yet it is just an introduction. There are many more customisations available for a Mac, such drastically changing the dock's appearance by theming it. The same can be done with the rest of the Mac operating system, though it does take a while to get things perfect. 

Have you found some cool customisations of your own that you'd like to share? If so, please do so below!

And when you've finished making all these customisations, why not check out the Mac apps on Envato Market to see what else you can do.

Editorial Note: Our instructors keep this tutorial relevant and current. Special thanks to  for his work on comprehensively revising this material.

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