I suspect this will start another UI discussion.
I’ll venture the statement that the only reason there are icons in the left pane of the Three Panes view is to give the user a quick visual distinction between groups and documents. That’s it. That’s all. But it is an important distinction.
Yes, it would be possible to make those icons larger, so that each could contain a distinctive picture related to the contents and easily discernible.
But remember that that left panel is a list. Those tiny icons presently displayed in the list don’t add to the line height, so that a number of lines can be displayed on the user’s screen. If those icons of groups were made larger, so that the pictures they contain were easily distinguishable, the screen display could show perhaps only 6, 8 or 10 icons in its vertical height. (Let’s not think about making similarly large icons in the documents list in the top right pane.)
But one of my databases has 980 groups (and tens of thousands of documents), including subgroups, sub-sub groups, etc. The top-level view window displays 22 groups. Some of the subgroups contain more than 8 or 10 groups. Generally, I like to keep the number of groups within a group small enough to see them all without scrolling. But think about databases such as a GTD database that has daily subgroups for each month.
I create a lot of databases. I do so in order to make the information contained in them quickly accessible. When I’m making use of an existing database for a new project I’ll often do new organization, clustering some of the content in new ways. DT Pro provides tools and assistance to make it easy to do that, including replication or duplication of search results, selected items from See Also lists and so on. So for a new project I’m likely to quickly assemble new groups including important reference materials (usually as duplicates of the originals, so that I can mark them up or make annotations without affecting the original), notes, a TOC outline of the project with links to draft sections, drafts and so on. Often, the organization for a project is temporary, in the sense that I may spin it off to a separate database when the project is finished, deleting it from the original host database.
When I’m using the database that way I wouldn’t take the time to put pictures into group icons. And I want lists of groups (and documents) to be as “dense” as possible, so that I can quickly view them with minimal if any scrolling. And I’m not tempted to waste weeks of time putting pictures into the thousands of group icons in my databases (which hold more than 150,000 documents).
I think the database UI is pretty efficient for those purposes. Yes, it would be prettier with large and colorful icons of my choice. But it would be much less efficient for its intended purpose of providing an environment in which one can quickly collect, analyze and work with large collections of information.
But it might be fun to have a front end for a database, with some large and colorful. icons. So I might have something like a Library icon that would take me to my actual database, but perhaps also individual Project icons that would take me immediately to views of the projects I’m currently working on, and maybe a Journal icon to take me to the daily journal I keep in my main database. That would be a UI addition which would not only look good but add to efficiency in use of the database.
Actually, I do have a picture in several of my databases to help me remember which one I’m working in. So my main database has a front end picture, looking out to the woods through the spiderweb window in my log cabin’s kitchen.
See Spiderweb window.jpg at http://homepage.mac.com/WebObjects/FileSharing.woa/wa/default?user=wbdeville&templatefn=FileSharing5.html&xmlfn=TKDocument.5.xml&sitefn=TKSite.2.xml&aff=consumer&cty=US&lang=en.