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How to Bring Back Old IntelliJ Look (somewhat)

There's also a video version of this same article

Intro Rant

Feel free to skip this and go straight to the practical tips.

All good things come to an end, and it looks like the time has also come for IntelliJ’s old design. While it makes me sad to see JetBrains fall for the VSCodification1 trend, I do realize that it is inevitable, and there will come a moment when this abomination is forced upon us, and there’s not much that I can do about it. So I decided to bite the bullet and switch to the new design to make the transition more gradual - new year, new look, amirite?

After switching, I am immediately greeted by trendy excessive padding around every element - something that is more suited for a touch interface rather than a productive work tool, and a contrasty color theme that looks like a direct knockoff of VSCode. I even whipped out a color meter to check - colors are not the same, but pretty damn close (VSCode background is 30,30,30 and new IntelliJ’s is 30,31,34, in case you were wondering).

Anyway, I decided to give it a shot for a day despite my bitterness, and I very quickly realized that I can barely even fit two classes side by side due to that gosh darn padding. And the color contrast was starting to strain my eyes. So I decided to check what settings I can change to actually make it look more like good old days.

Change Back To Dracula

Change theme back to Dracula

The first thing that has the most impact is the actual IntelliJ theme that you are running. And I didn’t know this, but it seems that a lot of padding is actually baked into the theme itself, so changing back to good old Dracula theme already brings back a lot of information density:

Filetree density

While you’re at it, you can also change back to .AppleSystemUIFont instead of their new Inter font. I haven’t dove deep into why the new font is better (it very well might be), but I really hate when UIs use non-default fonts, it just falls out of context from the whole OS.

Disable Auto Opening of Files

Disable Preview Tab

Another thing that I’ve noticed with the new design is that they’ve enabled file opening by default when you click on the file tree. If I want to open a file, I double click on it. Opening on a single click is annoying, distracting, and might introduce lag depending on the system.

Apparently this is called “Preview Tab” and to disable it, you have to click on the kebab menu (three vertical dots) and uncheck Enable Preview Tab. You will now be able to navigate the file tree like the good old days.

Also, depending on your taste, you might want to check Show tree indent guides and/or Use smaller indents in trees in Appearance preferences. I personally don’t like small indents (two spaces as indent must die altogether, but that’s another topic), but indent guides are definitely nice.

Show tree indent guides


Breakpoints over line numbers

Another change they’ve made is that breakpoints now go over line numbers. This might save a bit of space depending on where you place a breakpoint, but that can also be annoying. You can disable this behavior by right clicking on the gutter and unchecking Breakpoints over line numbers. I don’t yet have a strong opinion about this one, but I’m experimenting with both.

A bit annoying addition is the breakpoint preview on mouse over. As far as I know that can’t be disabled unfortunately.

Talking about right click, I use it a lot on the gutter to enable Git Blame, and oh god did they messed that up. Depending on where you right click it will bring a different context menu. And most annoyingly, if you right click the arrow, it will toggle the fold instead of showing the context menu. This has got me so many times already. Hopefully they will fix this soon.

Navbar / breadcrumbs

Navbar position

They have also changed the location of the Navbar to be in the status bar. If you want to change it back to where you’re used to, you can go to View > Appearance > Navigation Bar > Top.

I personally think it looks weird at the top with the current design, so I will make myself get used to it at the bottom.

Git Branch View

Git Branch view

The Git Branch view has been removed from the bottom right status bar and everything Git related has been moved to the top left. You can however still enable the old location of Git Branch by going to View > Appearance > Status Bar Widgets > Git Branch. Now you will be able to control Git from both corners of the screen.

Fat Side Icons

Unfortunately, I haven’t found a way to bring back good old slim text instead of the fat side icons. Those icons do take a lot of useful space, without actually providing more information compared to text. Again, it’s not a touch interface, we don’t need fat buttons, mouse is a precision device, and I don’t think people had trouble clicking it before. But trends are trends, the pendulum will swing to the other side in about 10 years or so.

Run Widget

I haven’t found a way to customize that either. It seems that you can right click choose Customize Toolbar, but nothing you do there makes a difference. I did read that they will tone down the distracting color of the run widget in the next version. With that said, I’m not a fan of the new run widget either, especially stop button disappearing when nothing is running. But I’ll get used to it eventually.


With these steps I was able to somewhat bring back the old look of IntelliJ and get rid of the annoying padding around everything. When a colleague initially showed me the new theme, I was sad and frustrated that I will soon have to face VSCode looking IntelliJ every day, but after doing a bit tweaking, I can see that the future is not as bleak as initially thought. This brings a bit of peace to my mind, and if you’re anything like me, hopefully this will also bring a little bit of peace to you too.

Please share your frustrations in the comments, so that we can be frustrated together 🙂. And if you find any tips on making the new design a bit better, then definitely share that in the comments. I will update this post with more tips when they're found. But with that said, thank you for reading my salty rant with a bit of practical information sprinkled in.

For a list of changes, you can check the Official Post from JetBrains

  1. VSCodification trend is when every IDE wants to be like VSCode. Well at least IntelliJ is not an Electron app… yet 

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