Localized locations of settings is confusing

While I like DEVONthink and the usefulness it brings me, understanding it and its features is difficult. The new synchronization and DEVONthink To Go have really made the product an asset on my desktop and mobile.

Understanding the program(s) are hampered by the locations of settings. Rather than being in the central Preferences window they are spread throughout the program. While the approach is understandable, the settings are not often in a location a new user (or perhaps even a seasoned user) can easily find them. You have to search through endless popups and info windows to locate what might help you. The in-program help system does not list most of them when you search using it.

I have read through the manual several times, and it does not help much either. The language is often obtuse and repetitive. It describes features using the name of the feature rather than using other words that would help understanding.

I hope this feedback is useful to improving the DEVONthink experience.

DEVONthink is a power-user program, and, as you said, there is a very large number of preferences, options, settings, commands – and it takes time to master than. Perhaps it would be helpful to think of how these things are grouped in the interface. In general:

Preferences are settings that affect the overall behavior of how DEVONthink works. Preferences fall into two major categories: settings that affect how you interact with DEVONthink (Edit, Import, Appearance, Labels, Media, etc.) – these preferences affect every window in every database. Other prefences control major features (Sorter, Email, OCR, Sync).

Commands these are the menu actions: File, Edit, Data, Format, View, Go, Tools, Window, Scripts, Help. Most of these menu groups can be found in other Mac applications. Like all good Mac apps, DEVONthink adheres to Apple’s design guidelines so that the experience of using DEVONthink is not vastly different than using other Mac apps. It is intended to be a familiar interface in many ways. However, DEVONthink is far more powerful than most apps, and there are many commands that affect

  • how data is added to DEVONthink (the File commands that affect database creation and properties);
  • the Edit, Data, and Format commands that affect how you create and work with documents in a database;
  • the commands in View, Go, Tools, and Window that affect how you work with windows and navigate your databases;
  • and the Script menu which contains command for additional customization

You could not use the Preferences window to contain these commands because, in general, Preferences in Mac apps do not make something happen in the document window you are looking at in a database. Also, putting the dozens of subcommands that appear in the menus into the Preferences window would make for a nightmarish user experience. (E.g., have you ever tried to configure Outlook on Windows?)

The Info Panel – View > Show Info This affects the specific document(s) you have selected and provides both information and the possibility of changing some document aspects such as tabs, creation date, etc.

Contextual Menu when you right-click or control-click a group or a document that are some commands that affect the document or the data in the document depending on what kind of document it is.

You’re going to find this is true for any application on Mac or anywhere that is equal in power or features to DEVONthink. Frankly, it simply takes time to master any program like DEVONthink.

Perhaps you could post some examples of what’s confusing or frustrating? A lot of DEVONthink’s design has been affected by users over the years, and the company is always on the look for information on user experiences with the program.


Though I’ve been using this program for years and have spent as long writing about it in the forum – I’ve never found a fully satisfying set of tutorials or videos to recommend to new users. Joe Kissell’s book on DEVONthink (now very out of date), and the tutorials in Help > Support Assistant, could all be improved. It would be great if some of the tutorial sites on the net would commission a series on using DEVONthink. The learning curve is long – but it is unnecessarily long in my opinion. Part of that is understandable – perhaps there is more to explain than most of us can absorb easily, and there are hundreds of varying approaches and styles of using DEVONthink. But I agree with your basic premise, @stephenhouser, there has to be a better “getting started” experience.

On this topic, I wrote a comment for users of my mail program (MailMate) about the differences between DevonThink and EagleFiler. Here’s what I had to say about DT’s interface:

Fitt’s Law and related literature suggests that important commands should, all else equal, be easier to point to. This example violates that principle.
So yes, a lot of the difficulty with learning DTP is because it is powerful and complex. But some of it is due to dubious design decisions that have now been enshrined by tradition.