June 20, 2009

“Ask Tog”

A couple of weekends ago, in the course of reviewing/culling hundreds of JDI feature suggestions, I was getting a little crispy. Amidst lots of good suggestions and the occasional chunks of profanity & ignorance, I saw the following:
“Ask Tog.”
Tog, in case you’re unaware, is Bruce Tognazzini, the pioneering interface designer who’s worked at Apple, Sun, and other companies. He largely defined what it means for a UI to be “Mac-like.”
Without more info, I can only guess at the commenter’s tone & intention. For all I know it was breezy & trying to be helpful. In the context of some other remarks from Mac users*, however, I read it as lazy shorthand for “You suck. Be more like Apple” (without any useful, actionable details, of course).
As it happened, I’d been reading AskTog.com earlier in the day and saw the following:

20 years ago, there was a simple application on the Mac for doing basic edits on photos. It was called Photoshop. Today, Photoshop is a powerhouse of sophistication, capable of working miracles in the hands of a professional. Adobe has been in lock-step with their users, increasing Photoshop’s sophistication even as their users increased in theirs… A new user can become productive in Photoshop in 10 minutes, even if it takes another 10 years to learn everything.

Now, I’m sure Bruce could point out plenty of shortcomings in the Photoshop UI–as I often do–but it was still nice to read his observations. I don’t take them as some kind of absolution, and of course we’ll keep grinding away at usability issues (more details on that soon), but hearing some recent props from the original Mac interface guy felt good.
* Personal fave: “Make the mac version look like a mother f______ macintosh program. Jesus f___.” Classy, constructive, and specific, just like I like ’em.

Posted by John Nack at 12:55 PM on June 20, 2009


  • Doug Nelson — 12:44 PM on June 20, 2009

    I feel your pain, I really do. OS wars aside, at least Windows users are used to years of programs looking however they want to. But on the minus side, we’ve had years of programs looking however they want to.
    [I think OS consistency is very important, but not the only thing that matters. –J.]
    But then again, the consistent UI is one reason many Mac users are Mac users. And, of course, it’s one of the reasons many Windows users are against the Mac.
    [I sometimes say, “Consistency or innovation: pick one.” In many ways it’s a false choice, and you can indeed have both, but I want to highlight the tension that sometimes exists. If you can innovate in one app but others can’t yet follow suit, do you go ahead and break new ground, knowing that it’ll mean inconsistency, or do you wait until everyone can move? You end up facing lots of trade-offs.
    None of this is unique to Adobe, of course. Look at the “Marble”-style scrollbars in iTunes 8. Presumably those presage a new direction for the standard Mac UI, but they’re out of step with nearly all other Mac apps. Or check out the new iMovie, with its custom gray scrollbars. (Here’s a screenshot of iTunes sitting on top of iMovie.) I think the iMovie choice makes perfect sense, as video customers tend to like darker UIs. That doesn’t make it consistent with the rest of the OS, though.
    All of this just is what it is. My frustration is when Apple fanboys–the party of “Think Different,” you’d suppose–say “No! No one is allowed to innovate except Apple!!” And even then they take giant dumps on Apple for breaking new ground (cf. the now-abandoned tab design in Safari 4, which I grew to like using; God, can you imagine if Adobe had tried such heresy?). –J.]
    It really is a no-win situation, made worse by the fact that Photoshop is squarely aimed at visually-oriented people. Add to that the shrinking stature of the Mac as the shibboleth for media-creation professionals and you can see why Photoshop will never find itself out of their crosshairs.
    This is one of the (very) few times I don’t burn with envy over your job.
    [Heh. Come spend a day with me in meetings at the sausage factory. I can probably cure you of your affliction pretty quickly. ;-) (There’s always that ~10% of the time that’s really cool, though, that makes everything worthwhile.) –J.]

  • Mic Cullen — 4:02 PM on June 20, 2009

    As a counter-balancing view, I’m not the least bit interested in it looking/behaving like an OS-X product. I used a new MBP for 6 months, and it’s now up for sale as I found OS-X to be far too limiting for what I do, so I’m back with Windows, and very happy to be there.
    Just keep making it a good program, platforms be damned.

  • imajes — 5:04 PM on June 20, 2009

    As an aside, but inspired by the Ask Tog comment – In some places, I’ve seen the word tog used as a tacky shorthand for photographer, as it easier to type I guess. So I read the comment in yet another way!
    Never quite understood this Mac UI consistency ranting you come across, as Apple stuff is anything but. Some programmes close with Cmd+W, some with Cmd+Q, Esc sometimes gets rid of dialogues, sometimes it’s Cmd+W. Programmes made by Apple can look very different and also behave differently.
    Final Cut alows you to resize from any side of a dialogue, not just bottom right as is often and irritatingly the case with many other Apple Apps and also has a different colour scheme. But then we should be thankful that the Chrome of Garage band wasn’t made the Apple standard as it’s one of the tackiest programme skins I’ve ever seen, remarkably hideous! GAG!!
    My MacBook Pro keyboard has less keys and some in different places, despite there being more than enough room to accomodate them when compaed to the MP keyboard. Which is very confusing for one’s muscle memory, in fact it’s easier swapping between my PC laptop and Mac desktop, than my MBP + MP.
    I do not think Macs are any more consistent than PCs, other than having less variety of hardware to choose from. Which makes shopping easier – “which MB doesn’t have a dreadful glossy screen, oh the 17″, I ‘ll have to buy that one then?” Which is basically how I bought a new laptop the other day. Which does save days of looking through a huge variety of PC laptops with different screen sizes, configurations, extra hard drives, form factors etc.
    The only reason that I can think of why some Apple users think OSX is so consistent is they are so used to its quirks, they do not notice them, as they are consistently inconsistent. If you know what I mean. ;-)

  • imajes — 5:15 PM on June 20, 2009

    As for programmes on an OS not looking consistent, whether it be OSX or Win, does it really matter?
    A programme’s design, should reflect the job it has to do, not simply imitate other software with a completely different functionality.
    LR is a good example of that as is the recent version of Office. Both programmes looked at the standard interfaces, decided they could be improved on and, tore up the rule book.Both overhauls resulted in programmes that were better at their tasks, than if they had stuck to conventions. besides OSs change themselves and get updated and new UI ideas are implemented, that’s how we progress.
    Being different for its own sake is not always the best way forward, some of LR’s less successful aspects are where it differs from other Adobe progs or OS behaviour for no good reason, such as shortcuts or odd/irritating OS behaviour in Full Screen Mode.

  • imajes — 5:22 PM on June 20, 2009

    the now-abandoned tab design in Safari 4, which I grew to like using John
    You may like the tabs in Opera 10, very nice as they display the site inside the tab and they are above the address bar. And I’m sure this will be copied by the other browsers in a couple of year’s time as is usual and then claimed as their own invention.

  • Jukka Lariola — 9:01 PM on June 20, 2009

    If you really want to make MY life easier, make updating smarter! I REALLY don’t want to install updates when I open an Adobe app, that’s when I start working. Install and shut down would be best (at the end of the day). Macs own update could rally also use an option like that instead of install and restart.

  • Adam — 9:50 PM on June 20, 2009

    The vocal-group you come across seems very cult-like to me.
    Maybe this will lighten the mood:
    the Simpsons go to the Mapple Store

  • PECourtejoie — 11:27 PM on June 20, 2009

    Hi John, I’ve seen some other good suggestions that “Tog” would have seconded: Extend the active area of the toolbar buttons and panels icons to the edge of the screen when the toolbar is flush with the screen. (Fitts’ law, one of the pet peeves of Tog)
    Increase the size of the drop down menus icon in the panels (discoverability, Fitts), and this has already been adressed in the past.
    I do not remember what he thinks of pie menus, but it seems like something to ponder about to get even more power for right/ command+ clicking, THE other workflow accelerator for power-users.
    Of course, for the changeophobics, that might mean yet another entry in the preferences…

  • Mark Alan Thomas — 2:09 AM on June 21, 2009

    When Mac users complain about software not being Mac-like, it’s not so much a complaint about cosmetics as it is a complaint about behavior. I actually like my various apps to look unique so that I can tell them apart at a glance, which is especially valuable when invoking Exposé only to discover that every window to every open app looks like iTunes. I happen to think OS X is too bright and would prefer a heavier, darker gray appearance, and while it seems pointless to have scroll bars look different in different apps (why should you have to find the scroll bars?), the real problem arises when the scroll bars not only look strange but behave differently too, as they do in Lightroom. Lightroom even puts scroll bars on the wrong sides of some scrolling lists. It’s not difficult to adapt to these things, but it is pointless. Lightroom not only doesn’t look like a Mac app, it doesn’t behave like one either. Modality, for instance, is something software has been working to eliminate since the original Macintosh was limited to running one app at a time, and now we’ve got the Lightroom lead defending modality as some sort of GUI innovation (which, personally, I think is disingenuous, being fairly convinced that it’s just a side effect of a preexisting technology demo having been rushed to market in order to compete with Aperture). I very frequently find myself in the Develop module and wanting to add a keyword to the photo I’m working on. The only way to do that is to stop what I’m doing, switch modes, add the keyword, and switch back again, which just seems like an absurd, clumsy and artificial limitation.
    I’m totally rambling now, but my point is by all means think different, just don’t think worse.

  • imajes — 10:22 AM on June 21, 2009

    I have to say that LR’s scroll bars annoyed me too when I first used it [they are also diferent to Win conventions BTW], but I had to go and open LR to remind me why, as I’ve not noticed it for a while and realised I so rarely use scroll bars any more as the wheel on mouse or trackpads that scroll make them near superfluous. Mind you, if you have a ‘mighty’ mouse, the scroll ball regularly fails so scroll bars are essential then.
    Mark, I listed Apple behaviour above that is inconsistent. Why should anyone stick to the ‘rules’ if even Apple ignore them?
    Also given the choice of Mac like Aperture and LR, I like most Mac users [if you look at sales figures], will choose the vastly better non-Mac and much better for it design of LR. Not that LR is without flaws…

  • imajes — 12:41 PM on June 21, 2009

    Girlfriend is away and the cats aren’t in the mood for debating as there are critters to catch and chomp on, so I went and read the Tog article you linked to. Very interesting and echoed my major criticism of Apple products, I just phrase it differently. To my mind they are not simple, they are simplistic and as a result they end up being really difficult to use, if you put any demands on them. I have several Macs and yet rarely use any Apple software other than the OS, unless there is no other option, such as the execrable iTunes to deal with girlfriend’s iPod.
    I replace Finder with PathFinder and Default FolderX and also I use DOpus over the network to mange files on the Mac as it’s often easier/faster, LR, Br + PS for images, I use Windows for Outlook rather than faff around with the various simplistic programmes that Apple provide or bother with the crappy Mac version of Office that MS make. Once Win 7 [on Boot Camp] is fettled to my liking I will install useful software on there and use VMWare to run Win stuff that is superior to Mac software. Best of both worlds or is it the worst!? :-0

  • Adobe Gripes — 2:44 AM on June 22, 2009

    “the now-abandoned tab design in Safari 4, which I grew to like using; God, can you imagine if Adobe had tried such heresy”
    you did, those new chubby and buggy faux title bars :)

  • T. Schmidt — 5:42 AM on June 22, 2009

    All image editing applications that have a straight Mac-GUI are not handy and don’t come near the size and functionality of Ps. I don’t see a point in making it more OSX-ish, without a particular reason. It doesn’t strike me as odd looking, neither does Final Cut. And his comment was right, new users can use Ps within 10 minutes and I might add, pro users also need 10 minutes for some tasks in CS4, that required 5 minutes in CS3. I guess that means more equality.

  • Mark Alan Thomas — 6:24 AM on June 23, 2009

    imajes, I think there a few reasons why Lightroom is outselling Aperture, but I don’t think Lightroom’s interface is one of them. I think Lightroom outsells Aperture despite its interface because it supports more cameras and does it faster, because it doesn’t suffer from longstanding bugs which impede its usability, and most importantly because it is, underneath the artificial restrictions and silliness of its GUI, Camera Raw. Being based on Camera Raw means that photographers who previously had used Camera Raw in Photoshop can simply move their photos over and retain all the adjustments they’d made, which they could not do if they switched to Aperture. That’s key. Even if Aperture didn’t have slow and incomplete raw support and display problems, Camera Raw would still be its trump card. For photographers already committed to Camera Raw, the barrier to entry for Aperture is just too great. For Lightroom, there is none.
    Meantime, I was tonight amused to discover that the nonstandard scrolling design of Lightroom’s filmstrip is disturbingly similar to Apple’s clumsy Photo Booth app. So yes, Apple does it too. But that doesn’t excuse Adobe. Adobe should strive to be better, not just as bad or worse.
    I don’t now. Maybe scroll bars are passé. They don’t exist at all on the iPhone.

  • Mark Alan Thomas — 11:51 AM on June 23, 2009

    I was growing to like the idea of having the tabs on top too, but Apple’s implementation made some basic mistakes that only an amateur GUI designer would make. First, the size of the tabs was dynamic, making their target area and position change drastically depending on the number of tabs there were. Second, they misused the Mac GUI symbol for resizing as the indicator for moving a tab. Third, they hid GUI elements (tab close buttons) until mouseover. Lastly the tabs totally invaded the title bar in a way which confused the way Mac windows have behaved for a quarter of a century. It just wasn’t very well thought out, and because of this I’m glad they ditched it. I might have preferred them to re-do it and get it right, though.

  • Leslie — 1:09 PM on May 26, 2010

    But still CS4/5 interface is confusing, buggy and almost unusable (too small widgets, many inconsistencies, badly impemented windows, clunky dialogs and MANY more). Try to stick to Apple’s interface guidelines and try to understand them please!

  • Pissed Mac Developer — 10:01 PM on May 26, 2010

    Which Apple guidelines? The ones that Apple change all the time and don’t follow themselves (oh, and change from OS build to build), or the ones that are inconsistent among Apple’s own applications?

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