Interface Suggestions

I agree with some of what people are saying about DT having quite amazing capabilities that need to be believed in to be realized – and I’ve been willing to do that, slowly transitioning my workflow into DT. But I still think there’s a case to be made for a more transparent, less obtrusive interface that allows users to spend less time thinking about organization and more time writing. It seems to me that many of the Cocoa interface elements we’ve grown used to in OS X are designed to make interfaces less obtrusive. I’d like to see more drawers and sheets in DT; more floating palettes than there are now; more toolbars that float and anchor; and fewer deep menus full of complex and confusingly named items. DT relies too much on system-wide elements, like the incredibly poorly designed text/font floating palette. Just because Apple designed it doesn’t mean it’s good! It’s actually a terrible way to edit text, and one of the reasons that I’ve been writing in other apps and not in DT. Again I’d return to the distinction between users who are ‘filing’ in DT and users who are writing with the program.

To my mind the best solution that’s been offered for cataloguing many discreet documents is the one iView uses in their media pro application. In that program groups are very distinctly not represented as folders, but as distinct objects that use ‘+’ and ‘-’ instead of disclosure triangles. Photos are added to different groups by dragging and using modifier keys to control whether you’re moving or replicating (replicating being the default behavior). If I were the DT UI designer, I’d maybe look to iView. They’ve implemented an ‘iTunes for photos’ – I think that their app shows that what that phrase really refers to is not the capabilities of the product, but the ease of use and straightforwardness of its interface.

Just a quick note - DT does support modifier keys while dragging to duplicate or replicate too. And the next release will feature a completely revised “History” panel, a new “Groups” panel and the “Info” panel won’t float above other windows anymore (should be quite handy if the resolution of the screen is limited).

Christian has said he intends keeping DT preferences to a minimum.

that’s incredibly depressing, if true.

I favor that strategy as DT evolves if it means attention is given to making UI improvements without them. Some developers would dismiss that possibility because it’s non-trivial (with “unspecialized” software for a wide diversity of users, like DT) and easier reverting to feeping creaturism in an attempt to satisfy as many customer wishes as possible.

“creeping featurism” is something DT already suffers from.  but that’s almost inevitable in an app like this.  and it’s NOT a bad thing, as long as there are enough developer resources to successfully implement more features.  i have zero use for DT’s classification feature, but it doesn’t get in my way, so it doesn’t bother me that it’s there.

i’ve tried to focus on preferences that wouldn’t be difficult for the developer to implement.  merely trying to limit preference choice as a design decision seems incredibly misguided to me, and would limit DT’s sales beyond the “enthusiast” ghetto.

many of the applications i’ve purchased are distinguished by the lengths the developer has gone to allow me to use the app the way I want to, not the way the developer has preconcieved, through extensive customizible preferences.  some of these apps include DragThing, Microsoft Word, OmniOutliner, and Codetek Virtual Desktop.  for the same reason, i’ll be buying OmniWeb once it gets out of beta.  i think it’s no coincidence that these apps all seem to have sold very well.

a case study in the other direction is an app that the DT site links to, and thus Christian must be familiar with - Life Balance.  LB is based on a brilliant and well thought-out conceptual system, filled with an incredible amount of power to organize tasks and schedules.  unfortunately, the Mac client for LB is atrocious.  the UI is clumsy, it doesn’t integrate easily with my iCal data, and worst of all, the interface doesn’t let me choose how to display my data on screen.  if the LB developers spent a day or two with the Mac client to allow more customizable display options - mainly hiding and showing different panes according to user preference - i’d have bought the app instead of reluctantly turning away.  and i suspect i’m not the only one who reacts this way.

Don’t worry - there will be new options (but not every suggested preference will be added of course), e.g. the next release will provide the possibility to select HTML and list fonts or to select which columns are displayed in “List” and “Outliner” views. In addition, there will be lots of (more or less) minor changes to the interface.

But nonetheless, often requested features have definitely a higher priority than minor user interface modifications.