UI and UX of DEVONthink

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

There’s a couple areas I think may help out.

I’ve been using DT now for over 10 years, and still feel like I’m in the basics of what this provides, and there are still things about this that I don’t fully understand.

For example, the “record” button at the top. Always greyed out for me, no clue how to use it or what it’s for. I go to the help (literally just did) and searched for the button name and nothing comes up.

I’ve also never used “templates”, and today was my first time messing with them. Somewhat straight forward, it appears to be a script.

So kinda without prodding around and seeing what does what, it’s many times hard to find the most useful things for people, and some button choices on default should probably be changed.

What may be useful, from your team’s point of view, is to add a “tracking” feature into the next update, and prompt all users about it as a deliberate way to try and bubble the most important features up to the top. Many would probably not participate, but I’m willing to bet a good number will participate. I know I would. Then, you can see what features people are using the most, then focus easier ways to manage/use those services. For example, if people are using the templates a lot, allow an editor. Then, 3.0 can be pitched as a “user experience overhaul” plus lots of features, driven by this user feedback. Some things that are useful to capture:

  1. What specific things are users spending the most time in.
  2. What features are people using the most (and how they get there)

edit: One change that would be nice is where the sync notification goes. I’m syncing to DropBox for DT To Go, and it’s a popup that appears on the screen. Adding that as a simple indicator “messages button that has stateful notifications” would be nice. This could also go well for errors, when things aren’t converting properly etc. It’s better than a popup, because not all messages need to be addressed, but making it a popup (if one wants) is useful if they want to go through the error records and determine the problem.

edit #2: Can you have more localization? Not a biggie, but I speak Japanese, this is one of the few apps that don’t have Japanese localization. I don’t mind helping with that, if you want.

p.70 in the Pro Office manual.

I’ll disagree with you on this point.
How many people know what Calculations or Apply Image in Photoshop does?
Similarly, DEVONthink, especially Pro / Pro Office are not simple applications. They are deep in a way that Photoshop is. There are things to be discovered, things that aren’t necessarily needed in DEVONthink’s basic operation (and yes, it can be operated VERY simply.) No one “masters” DEVONthink, just as no one “masters” Photoshop. I have 16,000+ working hours in Pro Office and there are things I still discover. It’s part of the beauty of the app.

Interesting idea.

We will talk past one another from here on.

(post edit)

My initial comments were aesthetics and engineering. I realized this rather quickly after I posted. So I removed them.

I’ll return when I can say something constructive and objective, certainly after using DTP more. Otherwise, I await the next version.


Thanks for pointing out the manual. I’ve used it in the past, but forgot its existence. Since posting this, I also found a book that I’m highly considering buying:

You bring up a good point about Photoshop. The one counter I’d bring is that the readily available features are generally basic features that are simple to explain and understand. I go back to the “add record” option, but “sheet” is not standard. I’d say that if one has to read the manual to readily understand something that’s default, it should not be default. I know one can customize the bar, but I’d say that’s a more advanced option and should be supported but not required to use the app straight out of the box.

Taking the Photoshop example a bit further. I know Photoshop well enough to be able to do the basics (pull in an image, resize, crop, some touchups, and export) - and didn’t have to read a manual to do that. The layout was simple enough to just “get it”. Gimp was considerably more difficult, at least on the mac. To do similar stuff, of the basics, was more effort. I figured out the basics, but the UX needs a lot of work there because it’s not painfully obvious from the start. It definitely shows the difference Adobe put into their UX vs Gimp.

I’m an application developer by trade, and use similar metrics to help measure where to focus my effort in with the apps I build. The tricky thing is privacy in exposing, and explaining why, the data collection is there. I work for a university, doing application development for a college (architect level), so my needs to expose privacy is different than what your group would have to do.

In general the theme I try to live by, and what my post entails is that when a user opens an app, there shouldn’t need to be for that user to reference a manual. The options available to start should be simple enough not to require explanation. A user-guide (walkthrough you see in a lot of web apps now days) is probably okay, but also needs work (not binding off cookie, which a lot do, which breaks it for people who clear their cookies a lot). No more than the basics to have in the default view. Then, through customization (e.g. customize bar), or an “advanced features” toggle in the admin, should the full gambit be presented.

Now all that said, I’ll be sure to review over the PDF again, and I think I will purchase this book. One gap I had with this program in the past is the fact I’m on Android and Windows so much. Since .NET now supports other operating systems (.NET Core), I can now develop my code on a mac. I bought an ipad pro to stay in the ecosystem. So my goal is to now centralize in DevonThink for all my notes. Eventually using Applescript to help pull in data I want (e.g. documentation for languages) - and “synchronizing” external apps (like OneNote, Quiver, and so on).

The manual isn’t required to get started, but it does include a lot of good information, even on the basics. Indeed, I think DEVONthink is simple enough to start using with the basic tools at hand.

The basics…

  • Create some groups (available in the default toolbar configuration)
  • Import existing documents (File > Import is an obvious place to start, or drag and drop since we ARE on Macs! :wink: )
  • Create some documents (several types in the default Toolbar configuration)
  • Do some searching (with the searchField right in the main window). Perhaps not obvious it is searching only the active database, but the Forums / manual / or a tiny bit of poking around exposes Tools > Search.
  • Perhaps add some Tags (available to do in more than one place)

Beyond these, things are negotiable by need, not “required” tools.
Templates aren’t required.
The AI isn’t required.
AppleScripts aren’t required.
etc. The list goes on.
Just as Apply Image isn’t a requirement, but it’s sure a handy tool when one has need of such an operation!

People often approach the application as if they have to know and use every option and menu item. This is not true and a misconception that leads to people talking too often about “the learning curve” being steep. DEVONthink can be used VERY simply, just as Photoshop can be used very simply.

One more thought on the “need for a manual”. The manual to operate a radio controlled plane is likely to be small. The manual for a Cessna will likely be larger, for good reason. While they both are “aircraft” (and the instructions aren’t about “optional” things), the two vehicles are at different levels of operation and expertise to run. A less capable application would obviously need less information on all the options available.

Good discussion! :smiley:

I agree 100% . I have moved to keeping all my text notes in Ulysses for this reason - all of the library, search, toolbar etc. elements can be easily hidden and shown with a swipe or a click - and there are still robust x-platform search and tagging capabilities.

Also it preserves zoom , a feature requested here in 2009: Sticky Zoom, Setting Default Zoom... for bad eyes

Very good comments. Don’t be be discouraged from posting your ideas when you get pushback. I know (e.g., from numerous private messages) how annoying it can be when long-term users (like me) or institutional readers forget what it’s like to experience unfamiliar software and we reply defensively.

“Record” is one of a set of optional toolbar commands that correspond to the commands in Edit > Sheets, and are used when you are working with a “sheet” document. “Sheets” are DEVONthink’s terminology for displaying a CSV file as a grid. There are several icons that can be added to the toolbar – or removed, if you don’t use them – [New] Sheet, [New] Record, New Column, Columns, Delete Records, Delete Columns. “Records” are rows in the sheet. (When I was first using DEVONthink I kept thinking this means “record sound” – which it doesn’t at all – so I also scratched my head a lot until I read about sheets in Help.)

Some templates use AppleScript (as you noticed), and can be very sophisticated. Most templates do not use scripts, and you can set up your own templates without using scripts. Say you had a PowerPoint document that was set up for a particular type of presentation. You can make a template from that by selecting it and using the File > Export > As Template… command**. Then in the future you will find your personal PowerPoint template in the Date > New From Template menu.

** [size=85]I’ve often thought that the command should be File > Save As Template since that might make the operation more obvious.[/size]

Well this thread sure caught fire!

For me, it’s a few things:

  1. The iconography, particularly where the Magic Hat is most often found, simply needs a refresh. A lot of these icons look similar (keywords, text alternative, word count) or give very little insight into what they do (the Magic Hat itself, though I imagine that’s a sacred cow for many folks!). They are also tiny. Seriously, why are they so small?

  2. Lack of customization when it comes to color. I just like dark modes or being able to define my own themes. Not a big deal though.

  3. As addressed elsewhere, the note taking options could be better. For example, I’d love to have the “Take Note” floating window be available from anywhere in the system as an alternative to the Sorter (I can’t make myself use the Sorter’s note taking function because I can’t find a good place for the Sorter on my two monitors! #FIrstWorldProblems).

  4. The text engine itself. I really really like Markdown. I find it very intuitive for not merely formatting text, but also organizing thoughts (in a way that rich text simply cannot replicate without seriously annoying UI stuff). I’d love it if DTPO at some point incorporated the Markdown features you see in apps like Ulysses, MultiMarkdown Composer, or Bear. (I don’t need any of those apps’ fancy export functions, however!)

Otherwise, I’d like to see more modern UI touches. A great example is the current version of Ulysses on macOS. You can summon pop-overs and then grab and detach them at will. It’s super convenient and feels very usable.

Overall, the keywords here are “customizability” and “personalization.”

Oh, and on that point: I still have no idea what DTPO “keywords” are for, how to use them, or why I should care. Are they tags? Not really. Are they a component of See Also? Maybe…I don’t know!

(Nobody get me wrong: I make suggestions because I’m completely invested in DTPO now. I am learning DEVONagent as well. DTPO/DTTG are simply unparalleled personal knowledge management apps–I just want them to get better and better!)

I agree that many icons are so tiny it’s hard to figure out what they are.

I’ve never understand why it’s a “Magic Hat” – I guess it’s a reference from another place and another time – and it took years before it dawned on me that that weird icon thing is a “hat”. :open_mouth:

Some document formats, such as PDF and some image files, support “keyword” metadata. It’s a very early tagging concept, and not at all something that DEVONtech invented. All DEVONthink is doing is showing you keywords where they exist, and let you edit them in PDFs. There’s a built-in script to “Convert Keywords to Tags”, for those who have PDFs with keywords and prefer to use tags instead.

The UI design of DT has never felt particularly outdated to me. I personally like its very information dense design although I understand how overwhelming this is for new users.

If there is one UI design I think has a lot to offer in the way of ideas for the next version of DT, it would be Scrivener. Conceptually it has a lot of similar workflows as DT although to a different purpose.

I think Scrivener makes very good use of screen space while still making a lot of information available. To highlight a couple of things I think DT could borrow.

  • The multiple pane view is very flexible. It possible for example to have an outline view in each pane, open to different points in the pane, or to flexibly switch between outline, corkboard and document view in either of the panes.
  • Flexible metadata for each document in a docked info panel. Custom Metadata, External links, Keywords, Comments etc.
  • Better handling of long titles as I noted here : Feature request: More flexible title display.
  • The scrivenings display where multiple documents can be viewed together as one continuous document for reading or editing. I am not suggesting that DT should try to replicate all the features of this mode, but a basic version would be useful for those of us who do most of our writing in DT. I also think such a view has a lot of potential as a way of bookmarking pdfs in a more flexible way than any current product allows.
  • The collections view for saved searches is very cleverly implemented. I think DT’s smart groups are ultimately a better solution but its worth thinking about

(This is not a criticism of DT, which I love, use everyday and depend upon completely. They are very different products despite their overlap in some areas)

Can’t wait for the next version of DT :smiley: :slight_smile: :smiley: :slight_smile:

Totally agree re, Scrivener - I think they did a bang up job of balancing deep functionality with a great UI.

I totally agree.

  • Marco.

Just wanted to add my 2 cents in here. I’ve been using DTP since about six years now? I’ve brought up the topic of the UI a couple of times in here I think over the years.

It just would be nice if it didn’t look like it comes out of 2008. It’s a bit of an eyesore when it completely sticks out like a sore thumb against all my other applications running alongside.

I know, I know, it’s subjective. But when your app literally looks like nothing else left running on the desktop anymore since years, it might be time to do a rethink of the design, especially when we’re talking mostly about basic window functionality.

And as for suggestions in terms of UI, I suggest you guys look at something like OmniOutliner or OmniFocus. They’ve recently redone all their UI stuff and, frankly, it’s a breeze and pleasure to use. I use them every day and I couldn’t be happier about it. They have hugely accepted designs and that might be a good starting place perhaps? Just a thought.

Scrivener’s redesign is not only visually pleasing, buy also very user friendly. Big win for their UX guys.

I also wouldn’t mind the sorter being updated so that the Take Note window could be assigned a keyboard shortcut. I never actually use the sorter to add files to DTPO, I just use the Inbox sidebar folder.

Keep the sorter for people who do use it, I know a lot probably do, but maybe an additional option like a Menu Bar app to invoke the Take Note window that is in DTPO would be my preference.

It already has this option in Preferences > Sorter. Also, if you’re not running the Sorter (and it sounds like you wouldn’t be), it is an independent window that appears for taking the note. (I use this all the time.)

…and I’ve already got a keyboard shortcut assigned. :neutral_face:

Well that solves it for me. I guess I just need to take a trip into the preferences pane every once and a while. Thank you!

No problem. :smiley:

Another example of a great UI is the recently released Keep-It for macOS and iOS. It’s obvious to me that Keep-It is a simpler version of DTPO, but the UI is very modern feeling. Would love to see a redesign similar to that. A minor thing would be to move the location of the Tags to someplace more obvious. It’s all little stuff–certainly DTPO works fine. It could just be easier to use!