UI and UX of DEVONthink

DEVONthink on Mac looks really antiquated. The icons are so low-res and ugly. The UI is so dated, it keeps pushing me away from buying into your ecosystem. The desktop version reminds me of Netscape Navigator and the Eudora E-mail client from the 90’s. A complete rethink of the UI/UX is required urgently. PLEASE hire a good designer, preferably the same team that was responsible for your iPad client. I am sure you are not attracting the maximum possible new customers simply because you have failed to update the looks of both the desktop apps as well as your website.

While updates are planned, aesthetics are a subjective thing. There are many apps nowadays (even the flat styling of macOS) that I find unattractive. However, the styling doesn’t affect performance or functionality. A dump truck is far more functional thatn a Lamborghini, even if the Lambo is far, far, faaaaar more beautiful.

Well, again, I don’t think it’s helpful to tell customers that “aesthetics are subjective and don’t matter for functionality.” They absolutely do matter. The UX helps determine whether something is used at all, ergo, it matters for functionality. The dump truck/Lambo comparison isn’t helpful: those two vehicles do entirely different things.

I’m already in the DTPO ecosystem and the DTTG UX is already quite good. I have learned how to use DTPO even with the outdated UX, but I am certainly happy for it to improve.

If “dump trucks” would keep me happy, I wouldn’t be using Apple products, and instead be complaining why DEVONthink products won’t work on some cheap-ass tablet. I think you are missing the point. You guys made a great product with DTTG2, and only wish that the Mac products will also be spruced up UX/UI-wise.

I didn’t say aesthetics don’t matter at all. However, something being “pretty” (especially it’s icon) doesn’t define it’s usefulness or functionality.

Case in point: Terminal is not pretty but it’s incredibly powerful. (And yes, Terminal is a dump truck, but it’s awesome). TextEdit isn’t particularly handsome either. But it’s still a great app. Most web browsers are quite dull and uninspired - small variants of each other - and yet they’re used every day, very successfully. Would any of these apps be made more powerful or functional by cheering up their colors, etc? No.

PS: I haven’t missed the point and said we are looking at some UI changes in the future.

Just my 2c: the antiquated UI in DTPO was one of the reasons I was hesitating to migrate from Evernote. I don’t regret having switched, though, because the UI’s age is largely offset by search speeds and sync speeds which are years ahead of anything I’ve seen. I just live with the UI, it’ll probably get an overhaul someday :slight_smile:

DEVONthink 2.x is obviously quite old (the first public beta was released at the end of 2008!) and won’t get an overhaul anymore. But an upcoming future and major revision definitely will.

One reason that I have yet to feel overly enticed to bring DTP in fully to my ecosystem (despite having purchased it and despite seeing its strong potential) is that I find its UI to be cumbersome. This is not about aesthetics, this is about the UI not getting in the way of the app’s utility. By one example, I hear raves for DTP is the search engine. Yet I have no respect when my multi-term search that I diligently craft the first time gets munged to one line that cannot be read entirely (and can only be read coherently when you can think like a programmer) the next time I open the app. I have even less respect to hear that this has been accepted behavior since … whenever … and may continue to be the case for … forever.

I offer all due respect to the dedicated users who know the DTP system backwards and forwards and who have programmed it to sing opera. I have my own example of this kind of “truck” (old but well-worn, powerful software app that I can program to sing opera). I would love to be as sold on DTP as I am by other truck. The difference is, my other truck has since added airfoils, back-draft baffles, low-noise mufflers, and a high-efficient transmission, and it has since had two fresh coats of paint.

I hear rumblings of a new version of DTP on the horizon. I hope it is not going to be just “… looking at some UI changes in the future”. I hope the new version offers a revolution in its UI to get out of the way of hampering the utility of the app even for the routine users, not just for the power drivers.


This shortcoming will be definitely fixed in the future.

It’s always a compromise between (existing) users who are used to the interface (or even like it) and (new) users not liking it at all.

Thank you for the follow up. I have a clarification to add.

I am not intending to express a strong revulsion about the UI on DTP. I am intending to offer a counter point to the somewhat adamant sounding statements that UI design is purely (my modifier … see below) “subjective”.

My concern is not about how pretty the UI on DTP is. My concern is, the UI is in some cases cluttered, unintuitive, and (by specific example) counter productive. These are problems that stand in the way of utility.

I admit that I am in the camp of “I see the potential of DTP but have yet to put it in to use in my workflow”. IOW, I am biased by not having used the app deeply enough to see past some of the issues in the UI.

I hope if nothing else to make positive if rather blunt objective statements in the framework that, when a software app is designed by a set of people with a fixed mindset on use and UI, the inability of others to grok that mindset can become a serious limitation to further adaption if not an ongoing annoyance to even the most loyal of fans. The UI has to be designed to lead folks in to the utility of the app naturally. The UI cannot be designed somewhat as a “subjective” issue. A comparison might be to attach a bunch of similar appearing wooden knobs in boxed clusters on a time machine, call this a great system because it is so powerful, and claim the hardware to the system is “subjective”.

I think another aspect that I see as I read the forums here is the perception, rightly or wrongly, of support being dismissive of comments about UI design. Contrast to other forums where the comments about “subjective” UI changes are met with such responses as “Great idea, I will note it” or “That is interesting. It will be a bit complicated though to implement”. The consistent reading I get from this forum is “UI design is subjective (e.g. What we think it is all that matters)”. FWIW, I see a potential influence of German-mentality in the phrasing / consistency of this statement.

I hope to delve in to DTP. I truly see its potential to bridge the clutter in my file system and my other database sources (mainly a scientific citation management app). Unfortunately, all of my fires have been in other camps. I have however a set of goals upcoming in a six month out timeframe that require better management of my bridge, and I have a more relaxed schedule ahead. I may finally be afforded the time to use DTP and be able to make constructive comments.


@JJW: Thanks for your thoughts and clarification.

We certainly don’t think DEVONthink is “perfect” in every way (or else we would have stopped development long ago :wink: ). I have over 16,000 working hours in DEVONthink Pro Office and I have found it to be more and more comfortable to use. But does that mean I don’t register my own requests with Development? I certainly do!

I apologize if you find my tone “offensive”. It is not meant to be. However, many people have strong opinions about aesthetics and their importance (or lack). I am an artist so aesthetics are important to me. But as a technician I also see that a painting may be beautiful despite using grungy old (favorite) brushes that aren’t beautiful (except to me, perhaps).

An icon has no bearing on the capabilities of an application (speaking of general UI discussions, not you specifically). People sometimes make a big issue that it doesn’t “match the OS” (when I find the flat look of modern macOS to be dull and inspired, personally). This is a matter or personal aesthetics, not functional aesthetics.

But, yes, something like making the searchField bigger is important… but making it more functional / capable is very important to! Making sure the mechanisms work is first priority.

Remember there are two things at play: Data and Presentation. We need to make sure our work with data (searching, classifying, etc.) is working properly. Presentation - how you see it, how the operations are presented, etc. are more flexible, ie. there is no “one right way” or “one design fits all” option. There are design choices that are obvious (objective), some that are very subjective (regardless how strong opinions can get), and even some that are of no real consequence to the technician or aesthetician.


… I apologize if you find my tone “offensive”.

I never find any comments made here from any support are at all offensive. I do perceive a potential for the comments to appear to be dismissive. Your apologies are appreciated. Perception is a two way street, and I greatly appreciate the clarification you give in this regard.

… Making sure the mechanisms work is first priority. … Remember there are two things at play: Data and Presentation.

As background, I code UI panels for a scientific/engineering software app. I battle these two issues as you note. I take a hard line that UI design is critical both to appreciate how a program works and to allow users to avoid pitfalls. This lesson has defined the character of the packages that I create. I would rather do a UI layout in the best way demanded than do a UI design just to provide a new feature.

I do this because I distribute the packages globally AND I use the packages as demonstrations for science / engineering courses. When the internals are wrong, I can offer a direct reply, and the fix is direct. When the UI is “cumbersome”, the fix demands a deeper reflection.

Over the long run, I believe that UI design choices are not subjective or perhaps at best only weakly so. I absolutely do not hold to the idea that some UI design choices are of no real consequence to a software app. I believe that all design choices for a UI fall in the range between functionally constrained and aesthetically constrained, and I do not believe that UI features are ever entirely unconstrained functionally or aesthetically.

So … There is no “first and second” in priority for me. Making sure the mechanisms work is a succeed or fail metric. When something is wrong here, the software fails directly, but the recovery is typically straight-forward. Making sure the UI “works” is a minimum or maximum functional/aesthetic metric. When something is below par here, the software also fails, but only in that annoying way that bothers us when our car is dinged multiple times in a grocery store parking lot. The recovery should cost a comparable amount of effort.

IOW, I appreciate in my many years at this practice that as much time and thought must go in to assuring the UI of my package is both functionally and aesthetically at high standards as goes in to assuring the mechanics of the code are right.

That is what constituents good software development for me.


Yes. I will do a post-post on my own statement.

I had a moment to compare the UI of two apps that I consider similar is end-use, DTP and Papers3. Both access databases of information, allow users to categorize the files (via folders and such), provide access to meta-content about the files, and have search engines.

The UI of Papers3 is significantly less cluttered. I do not have to “read past” or “read into” boxes and column dividers. I do not have to ignore additional on-screen, wedged-in collections of widgets and readouts and buttons while I review information that is otherwise supposed to be front-and-center in my processing.

This is NOT a subjective “prettiness” metric. This is a “my brain has to learn to ignore and read past and see through the clutter” metric. The UI on DTP is ugly for this reason.

I will also reference the change that OmniFocus undertook going from OF1 to OF2. The UI design was significantly pared back to less color, bling, and flash with more content front and center. Yes, important features were dropped along the way (to the point that I avoided OF2 for almost a year). Once certain features were back, the improvements were IMHO well worth the downtime.

UI design is NOT a subjective, second priority for good software. It demands an artists and engineers eye toward good aesthetics and “get out of the way” functionality. This is where I think DTP needs to reconsider its approach, and this is perhaps what some folks mean when they say the current UI is ugly.


These are subjective.

An “artist’s eye” is very subjective. An engineer’s less so, but still tinted by it.

What you see as “good aesthetics” isn’t necessarily what I (or anyone else) see as good aesthetics, etc.

“Get out the way functionality” is also subjective. Some people think using a mouse gets in the way of functionality. That is a subjective opinion.

The thread would be concrete and more to the point if some of the posters would suggest specific changes that would please them.

Other readers need something specific to consider, since it’s a community and we get to have our own opinions and want a chance to weigh in. E.g., “Change this sidebar to show blah”, or “Add a widget with such-and-such logic”, or “Put the Inspector into a sidebar” – or whatever it is that floats one’s boat.

No one can assess potential design judgments based on “ugly”.


First post on the forum - and I’m glad this topic has come up. I’ve been an avid user of DEVONthink Pro Office for about 18 months now, and seriously, it’s been a revelation. It’s not an exaggeration to say it’s transformed my work. I spend at least 5-6 hours every day in DTPO, so for me, I need something both functional and pleasing to the eye. The functionality of DEVONthink is second to none but I think in terms of UI it could learn from other apps such as Evernote and the aforementioned Papers3.

In terms of specific features, yes a wider and more prominent search field would be nice, but I think top of my wish list would be removing the floating activity window or ‘docking’ it somewhere permanent on the UI. Having a floating window appearing on top of your work or conversely, having it hidden behind windows when you need to check it is incredibly annoying. Why not a sync or notification icon built in to the main window itself?

The UI could do with a fresh colour pallete and a general increase in resolution. The icons could do with a redesign and a more minimal appearance would be appreciated by me - FWIW DEVONthink To Go offers some clues as to the way forward - what an awesome, well-designed and modern-looking app.

Appearance is subjective but it seems more apps these days are moving towards a more minimal, focused appearance with advanced options tucked away via hamburger menus or settings ‘cogs’.

Keep up the hard work!

@techyhistorian: Welcome to the club and thanks for the thoughts.

Since we’re talking about subjective aesthetics, I personally think iOS and macOS are getting uglier and less inspired by the year. It doesn’t inhibit my activities, but it certainly isn’t enhancing the functionality for me either.

I’d agree with you, but the alternatives aren’t worth contemplating! :smiley:

Oh, how I do agree with you (glares at the development Windows laptop sitting on a table nearby :laughing: :mrgreen: )