February 12, 2009

Scrubby sliders & more

You may well know about "scrubby sliders" in Photoshop–the little finger-with-arrows icon you get when your cursor hovers over the label next to a numerical field, such as "Opacity" on the Layers panel.  (Here’s a screenshot borrowed from Photoshop Essentials.)  With scrubby sliders you can click and drag on the text label, moving left and right to adjust the field’s value up and down.  You may not have discovered a couple of nuances, however:

 

  • Holding Opt/Alt while scrubbing makes the values change 10x more slowly.  This is great for fine-tuning a value.  Conversely, holding Shift while scrubbing makes the values change 10x faster.  This is great for making an audience sick while demoing canvas rotation.  (Open a really big image, zoom out, hit R, and then Shift-drag over the Rotation Angle text on the Options Bar. Entreat your viewers to stare at the center. Watch them become your willing thralls…)
  • Some fields don’t have text label next to them, and it therefore seems that you can’t use scrubby sliders with them.  Ah, but that’s where holding down Cmd/Ctrl while mousing over the field comes into play.  By holding the modifier while dragging, you can use a scrubby slider on these fields.  (Adding Opt/Alt or Shift works as you’d expect.)

 

On a related note, when you put focus on a text field in Photoshop, you can nudge its value up and down by using the up/down arrow keys.  Holding Shift while arrowing naturally makes the increment of change 10x larger.

 

It’s all these little custom behaviors that help make moving Photoshop from Carbon to Cocoa a rather involved affair.  The app has developed a lot of little tweaks (e.g. holding down Opt/Alt in dialog boxes to turn Cancel into Reset) that don’t just come along for free.  It’s also an illustration of why custom widgets are sometimes desirable.  I’d like to see Photoshop and other CS apps make scrubby sliders much more universal/discoverable via something like the Adobe video apps’ sliders (screenshot). [Update: See also the ones in Flash CS4.]



There’s one other related thing, which I hate to mention as it’s a bug, but I can offer a solution.  In CS4 if you click on a text label to highlight a field, then use a mouse wheel to adjust values, you may notice that the field stops changing.  The workaround is to keep your cursor over the text label, or anywhere outside the field itself.  Sorry about that rough edge.

Posted by John Nack at 7:26 AM on February 12, 2009

Comments

  • jimhere — 8:21 AM on February 12, 2009

    Besides the Mustard Yellow, is the difference between PS and AE’s sliders that AE has now ‘text box’ to start off with? Flash’s new Motion Editor uses those just fine. InDesign doesn’t have them at all.
    [The Flash ones (see screenshot) are just what I have in mind. You can mouse over the text field, then click and drag (with or without modifiers) to start sliding its value up and down. You can also click onto the field to edit the value directly (by typing in a new one) or by using the the arrow keys to nudge the values. You can mouse over the field and use the mouse wheel (with or without modifiers). Oh, and they're not yellow. :-) --J.]

  • Tim Gogolin — 9:01 AM on February 12, 2009

    FYI: In the Adobe Video apps, the scrubby sliders are only yellow when the user has chosen to have a dark background for the workspace; if the user’s preference is for a light gray background, then the sliders are blue (looking just like John’s Flash example screenshot).
    [Ah, cool; thanks for the info, Tim. --J.]

  • Jim Neumann — 9:16 AM on February 12, 2009

    What does Adobe classify as a “bug”?
    [It's a pretty inclusive term. Generally it refers to defects, but we also use the bug-tracking system to capture feature requests. Some items fall into kind of a gray area: functionality may be working as designed, but someone may want to suggest a way things could work better. The upshot is that there's a continuum of "bugs," from "things that blow up my computer" to "wild ideas for the future." Our database has fields for severity, priority, etc. to help sort what's what. --J.]
    Does anything really happen when we fill out the Bug Report form available on Adobe’s site? 8^(
    [Yes: we read and evaluate the reports. --J.]

  • bret — 9:42 AM on February 12, 2009

    John,
    Are you on twitter?
    [Barely. I already have a terribly short attention span and no self-discipline--things not helped by getting 300+ emails per day. Twitter and IM seem to fall into the category of "Things Designed to Break Me." --J.]

  • Klaus Nordby — 12:46 PM on February 12, 2009

    @John: “holding down Opt/Alt in dialog boxes to turn Cancel into Reset”
    That’s one of my pet hates. For why the hell (and pardon my French here) can’t we have simply another button in those dialogs which simply says “Reset”? Maybe there were screen real estate reason for this hidden reset feature — back in the VGA stone age — but NOW, surely those dialogs (Curves, Levels, etc.) have ample available space in them to allow for a dedicated, clearly-marked “Reset” button? Why impose such a “hidden but discoverable” feature on users — why turn a plain-vanilla Reset feature into an Easter Egg hunt?
    [Just to mess with you. ;-) No, of course it was a real estate constraint back in the day, and the dialogs should be updated to include a reset button. I'll look into having that added. --J.]

  • Tim — 1:18 PM on February 12, 2009

    “when you put focus on a text field”
    What does that mean “put focus”?
    Sorry, but do you mean highlight?
    [Essentially, yes. Focus (i.e. the thing to which input will be directed) may or may not be highlighted, but a highlighted object generally has focus. --J.]
    Thanks for all the knowledge you pass along to us… and the cool links.
    [My pleasure; thanks for reading. --J.]

  • ValkyrieStudio — 2:19 PM on February 12, 2009

    Scrubby sliders are probably the greatest of the “little” additions PS has ever seen, at least for me. I don’t even use the ‘regular’ method anymore if I can help it. The only downside is you’ve totally spoiled us by having them in PS, since at work I use Illustrator a bit more, and would love them to be in there too.
    I did *not* know about holding Command for fields without a text label, so I’ll probably get even more use out of them now, ha. Thanks for that!

  • Collin Allen — 2:20 PM on February 12, 2009

    I *love* the Shift and Option variants on value input fields. Other apps may not benefit from this behavior, but it feels right at home in Adobe apps. I hope it never goes away :)
    One minor pet peeve I have with CS4 (Mac) right now regarding those fields is that scrolling up and down with the mousewheel is inconsistent in some places. For example, in some Blending Options value fields, scrolling down decrements once per wheel-click, but going up requires almost a half revolution of the mousewheel to increment by one. Sometimes, it takes even more spinning… An odd behavior, which generally forces me to use arrow keys.

  • Mark Thomas — 7:08 PM on February 12, 2009

    Aperture is cocoa and has this input field scrubbing stuff (including the Option and Shift variants). Has anybody considered asking the Aperture team to let you use the code?
    [Why not talk to the Lightroom team, as it's Cocoa-based and offers scrubby sliders (and runs 64-bit :-))?
    The challenge isn't in building scrubby sliders in Cocoa. The challenge is in ripping apart hundreds of dialogs and panels, then building them all up again. --J.]
    I for one would prefer it if the behavior were as consistent across as many apps as possible. It always bugs me when software insists on reinventing the wheel (and yes, I do realize that Photoshop did this before Aperture.
    [I'm certainly in favor of more consistency, and many Adobe apps are working to move closer and closer together. The UI team has been doing exhaustive cataloging of how widgets (e.g. text entry fields) work across apps so that everyone can move to a consistent set of widgets. You'd be amazed at how eye-glazingly long and detailed these specs are, but that's what's needed to preserve & extend the best practices that have grown up over many years. --J.]

  • Justin Putney — 9:50 PM on February 12, 2009

    I love scrubby sliders. Flash and Flex should probably come with scrubby slider components for developers to use. They’re the quickest and most versatile way to make adjustments.

  • Mark Thomas — 12:00 AM on February 13, 2009

    Why not talk to the Lightroom team?
    Do me a favor and never ask the Lightroom team for GUI advice of any kind. They’re the ones who’ve been smoking crack n smack cocktails 24/7.
    [Perhaps, but they seem to be doing just fine with customers. --J.]

  • AG — 1:59 AM on February 13, 2009

    Please follow the AE sliders, the Flash ones are interface hell. I mean who in their right mind would make the scroll wheel modify slider values when hovering over them. But also let the scroll wheel scroll up and down panels and then make some panels REALLY REALLY LONG like the motion editor and then for the final punch in the crotch make the actual scroll bar REALLLY TINY.
    Oh wait the Flash UI team would because they are genuinely clueless, wouldn’t catch that glorious AE team making such an amateur mistake

  • Mark Thomas — 1:34 PM on February 13, 2009

    Perhaps, but they seem to be doing just fine with customers.
    Sounds like Microsoft talking about DOS. What’s to fix? Customers love it!
    Meanwhile, the plug-in still has twice the number of niche users polled.
    Clearly I’m taking the wrong approach. Instead of pointing out all of Lightroom’s obvious GUI problems — and I know you secretly agree with me — perhaps I should work instead towards getting the rest of the Adobe software to mimic Lightroom. In the name of consistency. Yes! Wouldn’t it be cool if Photoshop were modal and looked like a rejected design for the Prodigy internet service? Oh yes, that would be a dandy idea.

  • Kevin Connor — 4:28 PM on February 13, 2009

    I can’t resist responding to Mark, because I’m quite proud of what we’ve done with the Lightroom interface–in part because it does seem to fly in the face of the consistency we’ve been trying to achieve elsewhere. I’m happy to be at a company that will support that level of experimentation in one product even as we try to codify the rules for others.
    Does everyone love the Lightroom interface? No, of course not. Any new design that challenges convention will be polarizing. But there are many that love it, and many of these people were not served as well by the established Photoshop interface. The fact that I have seen so many products in recent years that are clearly inspired by the Lightroom approach and look-and-feel is proof that we’ve struck a chord.
    And as for Lightroom’s “modal” nature, I believe that’s more a religious issue than a practical one. Many people overlook the elegant way in which Lightroom always remembers your context, not only when you jump between images, collections, and modules, but even when you exit and restart the application. That to me has always seemed revolutionary, but in a way that’s so subtle it can easily go unnoticed. It means that a module switch doesn’t cost you anything other than a mouse click. This approach bears very little resemblance to traditional modal dialogs, which force you to finalize your decisions before you can do anything else. Essentially, the modules are just an organizational metaphor to de-clutter your workspace and put the items that you need for a particular task close at hand.
    Can we still improve upon it? Certainly, though it will never be to everyone’s taste. That’s why we’ve still got Photoshop.

  • Ramón G Castañeda — 5:53 PM on February 13, 2009

    [That's why we've still got Photoshop.]
    Surely Kevin doesn’t mean that literally. There are a zillion things Photoshop can do that Lightroom cannot. I doubt “we still have Photoshop” just to offer a different alternative to Lightroom.
    (Count me among those who did not and still do not Lightroom.)

  • JimHere — 5:33 AM on February 14, 2009

    KC: Any new design that challenges convention will be polarizing.
    Challenges it like a 2005 Flash Demo.
    KC:Essentially, the modules are just an organizational metaphor to de-clutter your workspace and put the items that you need for a particular task close at hand.
    Then make then drag/re-arrangeable. CS4 is not so strict, let me move all yer panels to the right!
    But basically what John’s ost is about, it’ll be great when all the apps have that same scrubby/input widget (except for the experimental apps of course).
    John, is there a way out in the world that’s easier to change input “units”? Using the scrubbies (in PS), I sometimes forget to switch from percent to px, and I have to start over or else loos proportion…

  • Marky — 3:45 PM on February 14, 2009

    I don’t agree with replacing the current Photoshop sliders with AE sliders- the AE sliders are problematic and overcomplicated. The current Photoshop scrubby sliders are much better. If you need to enter a value its possible. Although they don’t work too well anymore with the extremely problematic adjustments panel

  • Marky — 3:48 PM on February 14, 2009

    I don’t agree with replacing the current Photoshop sliders with AE sliders- the AE sliders are overcomplicated, and error prone. The current Photoshop scrubby sliders are much better. Although they don’t work too well anymore with the extremely problematic adjustments panel.

  • Dan — 3:44 PM on February 15, 2009

    >> If you need to enter a value its possible

  • Mathias Vejerslev — 7:19 AM on February 23, 2009

    I like using my mouse scroll wheel for tuning slider values. It is a pity this functionality has not yet made it into Camera Raw.

  • Mark Thomas — 10:41 AM on February 23, 2009

    Does everyone love the Lightroom interface? No, of course not. Any new design that challenges convention will be polarizing.
    It’s ugly and clunky. Couldn’t you have challenged convention by making it cool and slick instead?

  • Guilherme — 8:36 PM on June 20, 2011

    What I love about AE sliders is that they update the change realtime. So if you’re changing the size of a font, you can see it change instantly as you’re dragging the slider. Is there a way to get that behavior in Photoshop?

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