Not All Content Displaying When Viewing Hierarchical Tag Con

Hi Everyone,

I’ve searched the forums but could not find anything specifically addressing my problem. So here goes:

Goals: Use hierarchical tags in place of folder structure.
Problem: When selecting a tag in the Three Panes view all the content is not displayed.

Here is the content that is in the (test) tagged structure:

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 11.43.34 AM.png

Here is what is displayed when selecting the top level tag (notice the 3 missing files):

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 11.43.24 AM.png

But, curiously, when I switch to the Tags view clicking on the top level tag does display all the content in the hierarchy, but I loose the visual hierarchy of the tags:

I’m not sure if I am doing something wrong, or if this is a limitation or bug with Devonthink. Any help will sure be appreciated. (Using Devonthink Pro Office 2.8.2)



The three pane view displays only the selected group(s or tag(s), therefore you have to select both the tag and its subtags.

Suppose I’ve created a hierarchical tag for members of the canine family of mammals. It might look like this:


  • Wolf
  • Dog
  • Fox

I would not tag any item by the Canine tag directly. I would tag various items by subtags such as Wolf, Dog, &c.

Now, in Three Panes view, I click on the Canine tag. Should I see any items that fall within this tag hierarchy? NO! If any item were displayed with that tag, I would regard it as a tagging mistake that should be corrected–either by refiling the tag to an existing subtag, or (if a new class of canine) by creating a new subtag in the Canine hierarchy and using that tag instead.

What if I select the Dog subtag? If items are listed, I can see in the Tags bar that they are members of the Canine hierarchy, specifically dogs. At least two tags will be displayed in the Tags bar of each item, Canine and Dog.

What if I want to see all items that have been tagged under the Canine tag hierarchy? Command-click on all the subtags to select all of them, and the complete list of Canine-tagged items will be displayed.

Thank you Christian and Bill for taking the time to reply to my inquiry. I suppose that it was the way that Devonthink handles nested tags.

Being that this was just a test database it doesn’t reveal that the true database would be very nested and with many entries which would make selecting every folder cumbersome.

Also, in Bill’s example I don’t quite understand why wolf, dog, and fox—having inherited the Canine tag—would not be listed if the top level tag has been selected. In my mind clicking on an upper level tag should show everything that has that tag (inherited or otherwise). And if I want more specificity, then I could drill down into the nested tags. (Perhaps this thinking is related to the fact that I’m a Sente user as well.) But at any rate, thank you both for clearing up how Devonthink handles nested tags. Much appreciated.

Lastly, could I turn this into a request for the tag view sidebar to display the hierarchical structure of the nested tags (like something along the lines of Sente)? Clicking on the tags in tags view already works exactly how (in my mind) it makes sense.

Thanks, again!


  • 1

Interesting, but not something I would find useful and would interfere with my use – I would not want this enhancement.

OTOH, the Tags view (View > As Tags) works this way: select a tag and all the children of that tag’s hierarchy are displayed in the document list. When the “Tags” column is added to the document list then one can see the tag, the document list for all the child tags, and the hierarchy. There are multiple Views in DEVONthink and one or more of them meet most (I think) user needs – just an observation from years of reading comments here.

First let me say that I love DevonThink. I purchased the Pro Office version and have been pretty happy with it thus far. But I think it can be better.

I think the issue raised in this thread is a serious oversight in the UI/UX of DevonThink, and I’d like to convince you guys to change it.

The biggest mental barrier with the current design is that it is inconsistent with itself and with design community standards.

  1. The tags bar for two documents can look identical, and yet they do not appear with each other in tags view. One might be shown in both child and parent tag views, the other only in the child view. There must be hidden information that decides if a tag is “direct” or inherited. This is confusing.

  2. When a document is assigned a child tag and inherited the parent tag, you can’t “really” add the parent tag to make it appear when clicking the parent. On the other hand, adding the parent tag first, then the child tag, results in the same tag bar list as the the first scenario, but you can see the item when clicking both parent and child tags. This is frustrating.

  3. The mental model instilled in users from numerous application is that the number to the right of a tag indicates how many items will be displayed when clicking it. But in DevonThink, this only holds true for leaf tags. In reality, it is an upper bound on the items you will see, and that’s a model seen no where else. It also serves little purpose in my opinion. This is unintuitive.

  4. When clicking on a tag users expect to see the documents with that tag. But in DevonThink that only consistently holds true for leaf tags. This is unintuitive.

The filesystems of major operating systems are hierarchical, and like the current tags implementation you would not expect to see an item in both a parent and child folder unless it was copied or symlinked, both of which are explicit actions.

But tags are not folders, and users don’t think of them that way. They typically think of tags as having no hierarchy at all - see StackOverflow, OSX tags, hashtags. That being said, nested tags could be very powerful and I’m in favor of keeping them.

In every hierarchical tag structure I’ve seen, children tags follow an “is a” or “is part of” relationship to the parent. A Wolf Is A Canine, and asking the software for Canine should show items tagged with Wolf, because a Wolf Is A Canine. I believe this is why a user unfamiliar with DT’s implementation would choose to use tags instead of folders.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Conduct a user study. Show a screenshot and ask users what they would expect to see when clicking on a tag. How many? I bet you’ll find people expect different than what is presented.

Possible solutions

  1. Disable automatic application of inherited tags, but allow tags to be organized in a hierarchy. Users can add parent tags explicitly. This is what Evernote does. Number shows how many items have that tag, not counting children tags.

  2. Keep application of inherited tags, but show all documents with that tag when clicking on the tag. No difference if a tag was manually applied or inherited. Number shows how many items have that tag, which in this scenario automatically counts children tags.

  3. Keep the distinction between direct and inherited tags, but differentiate them in the UI with button style. Allow me to change tags between direct and inherited to the limits that make sense. Don’t let me change a leaf tag to be inherited, but allow me to change any inherited tag to direct.

I strongly favor solution #2, but I think any of these would be better than the current implementation. My second choice would be #1.

Please let me know what you guys think.

Craig Younkins

“design community standards” – that would be interesting to read – could you point to the reference you’re thinking of?

Sorry, this question is OT – I don’t have an opinion about the request. I don’t use tags. Groups do the same thing adequately.


There of course is no one reference for design community standards. What I mean is that normal uses of UI elements proliferate through use and become known by users, aiding in understanding. A floppy disk is the save icon in many applications and so users are able to make sense of new occurrences of the button. Click on a tag in StackOverflow, Wordpress, or Twitter, and the sites show you items with that tag. So in a sense I’m saying, “You have to do what everyone else does.”

Because the UI/UX concepts that users come to understand proliferate through use, you can look to the design standards of the big guys and be confident that most users will understand the intent. Perhaps most notably, Apple has their Human Interface Guidelines. Other literature in the area includes Don Norman’s ‘The Design of Everyday Things’, Steve Krug’s ‘Don’t Make Me Think’, and ‘Designing Interfaces’ by Jenifer Tidwell.


Perhaps, even more notably, Apple has flaunted, ignored, and broken their own guidelines many times. :mrgreen: