Update the interface

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marcopalazzo
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Mon Aug 06, 2012 9:10 am Post

I think it's time for the developers to improve the interface of Scrivener so that it matches the new Lion/Mtn. Lion UI (monochrome icons, new buttons, etc.). I'm not saying I don't like the current interface. The thing is, compared to other (new) applications, Scrivener looks a little bit old-fashioned in terms of UI. What do yo think?

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Mon Aug 06, 2012 10:04 am Post

Sorry, don't agree at all. It looks fine to me as it is. TBH, I hadn't even noticed there was a difference...

Seriously, the use of colour in the icons is a benefit to those who use them, surely? (I don't)

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KB
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Mon Aug 06, 2012 11:01 am Post

Scrivener uses the standard Mac interface, so I don't really understand how anyone can, in all seriousness, describe it as looking "old-fashioned" when it uses the latest Apple UI libraries for everything. :) Programming in Cocoa isn't like using REALBasic, where interface items are static things that look the same on all systems and versions of the OS. In Cocoa, the standard interface items always take on the look of the latest version of the OS automatically - scroll bars, buttons, pop-up menus, sliders, checkboxes and so on: they all conform to the UI of the OS you are running. Scrivener also adheres closely to Apple's Human Interface Guidelines (even where its own apps ignores them sometimes!). As for monochrome icons:

http://www.literatureandlatte.com/blog/?p=271

Monochrome icons are great (well, they're okay) for apps that do not have many icons, but not for those that require a lot of information to be discerned from those icons. The Finder is a good example of an app that has been made less usable by monochrome icons in the sidebar - I now have to read the text in the sidebar because the icons are rendered indistinguishable to me by the draining of their colour. Likewise in Mail's toolbar; I often click "Get Mail" when I mean to click "New Message", because both icons are just grey and square and contained in a pill. Monochrome icons work well in the Finder toolbar, though, because there are only a handful of them, and they are just used for switching view mode or navigating back and forwards - all things that colour wouldn't help with much. There, a minimal UI works really well (whereas the sidebar suffers for it).

But imagine trying to distinguish between all of the different types of icon in Scrivener's binder if they were all monochrome. How would you tell a text document from a script document? An image document from a PDF document or a movie document and so on? How could you apply custom icons and still make them meaningful? If monochrome were adopted, the binder would be a mess of grey icons that may as well not be there at all. It might look nice and minimal when you first opened the app, but in terms of usability it would be a massive step backwards.

I think that's part of the problem here, too - people often mistake prettiness or trendiness for a good UI, when good UI should be primarily about usability. Apple has messed up a little here, in that monochrome definitely works well in some places but it has taken it a bit far and made some classic applications more difficult to use. Although undoubtedly the leaders in great UI design, even Apple isn't perfect and takes the odd misstep here and there - just take a look at the brushed metal look they tried out for a while. The monochrome trend is in part about emulating iOS, but it works well on iOS because apps there are simpler and cannot have as many icons.

For myself, I think the monochrome icon trend is a mistake and will turn out to be a fad - I bet Apple will make a big fuss about introducing colour icons again in a few years, once everyone else has copied them and gone monochrome. :) The whole point of icons is that you can distinguish between them instantly - they are there in the first place because they take up less space and are easier to distinguish at a glance than text. And icons have two primary means of information: shape and colour. Take away the colour and they are no longer as easy to use. Different people use different visual cues; no doubt colour-blind people rely mostly on shape anyway, but for myself, I discovered when monochrome icons were introduced that I rely mostly on colour, and have really struggled with Lion and Mountain Lion for this reason, and have begged Apple to add an option to return colour to the sidebars of Mail and the Finder. For those of us who rely on colour more than shape, you may as well take away the icons altogether.

However, for all of Apple's love of monochrome, you will also note that Apple does not use monochrome icons for all of its apps. Apple has recently updated iWork for the Retina display, and it has chosen *not* to use monochrome icons for those - no doubt because iWork has more toolbar icons and they are used more frequently. Think about how often you need to use the toolbar icons in Mail, Safari or Finder compared to how often many users will use them in Pages or iWork. The more often you use the icons, and the more of them there are, the more important it is to be able to distinguish between them quickly and easily, and thus the less appropriate the use of monochrome is.

I'm going to paraphrase Ioa here, with whom I had a conversation about all this not long ago: on what grounds can you really say that Scrivener "looks a bit old-fashioned"? Because it looks like a Mac program and not like a leather journal? Or just because it has a little colour in the icons? (And that is the only thing that separates Scrivener from some other Mac apps - having colour toolbar icons and binder icons instead of monochrome ones - in every other respect, Scrivener uses all the modern, standard OS X controls; in that regard I don't understand your point about buttons at all.) Are Pages and iBooks Author likewise outdated, then (even though iBooks Author is one of Apple's newest apps)? And presumably all of the OmniGroup's apps look outdated, as do DevonTHINK, Nisus Writer and most other perennially popular third-party applications?

There is a difference between fashionable and conventional interfaces. Fashionable ones get outdated much more quickly. Scrivener uses a conventional - but modern - Mac interface. Conventional interfaces provide a consistent and stable interface for non-techincal users, which should be what the Mac is all about. Our customer-base comprises writers - they don't want to be spending their time trying to work out what icon does what. I suspect that even those who think Scrivener should use monochrome icons and wotnot would, if it were implemented, regret it and discover that their productivity was hampered by such a move.

So, no, it is certainly not time that we switched to using monochrome icons. We spent a lot of time, hard work and money on Scrivener's interface, and while no app is perfect, I am very proud of Scrivener's interface and strongly believe that it works extremely well in integrating, and making as easily accessible as possible, the features I set out to build into a writing app. And no, it is most certainly and emphatically not "old-fashioned".

Our graphic designer is, in fact, just finishing updating all of our icons for the Retina display - all of them, I am very happy to report, in glorious full colour. :)

Regards,
Keith
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jtranter
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Mon Aug 06, 2012 12:02 pm Post

Well said.

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Mon Aug 06, 2012 1:35 pm Post

MS Office 2013 currently in beta is an interesting journey to the limits of UI minimalism. I'm not sure it's a journey I'm desperate to embark upon. I'd be still more reluctant if I was learning Office for the first time.
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Mon Aug 06, 2012 1:53 pm Post

Great GOOGLLY MOOGLY, NO! My navigation within Mac OS UIs has slowed down dramatically because of the stupid monochrome icons. The only thing that has blunted the impact is my use of Alfred to navigate much of the OS via my keyboard.

Thank you, Keith for not going in that direction. *clings to beautiful colored icons*
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phil
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Mon Aug 06, 2012 5:18 pm Post

To anyone who thinks that going monochrome is a good idea (except for the visually impaired, naturally), just think about how many monochrome monitors were sold worldwide last year. That should give you a clue as to how popular monochrome is.

For those of us for whom the early delights of green screen, amber and paperwhite monitors followed by 8-bit, 16-bit and finally 32-bit colours were a definite progression along the path of computer evolution, monochrome is generally a step back into the stone age.

Monochrome, like the use of colours, should be used where it is most effective. To do so purely because it is fashionable, trendy, or even standard is clearly an error. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Microsoft commissioned Edward de Bono http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_de_Bono to do a study on colour interfaces. At that time, PC's only had 16 colours and were text only, and he recommended that only 4 colours should be used in any application. That was taken up by Microsoft as a standard and worked extremely well. Third party applications which used more or less than four colours stood out as being less usable.

In this day and age when we have millions of colours to choose from, with the exception of icons, most application interfaces still adhere to the four colour principle. de Bono was also instrumental in the 'desktop' interface adopted by Xerox, Apple and Microsoft which encouraged the use of file, folder and filing cabinet icons to provide a recognisable and instantly understandable UI.

Icon colours are a clear exception to the four colour rule because with clever design, the use of colours can provide a visual clue as to which icon is which, even when you are bleary eyed from having written one hundred pages of your latest novel in a single session.

Oh and for those of you who like nostalgia, it wasn't Xerox who invented the original point and click interface. It was Samuel Colt. :lol:
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JonathanGrenier
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Tue Aug 07, 2012 6:20 am Post

Seeing how I was discussing this very topic on Twitter an hour ago, I figured I could give my 2c here as well. Let me preface by saying that I have enormous respect for the developers here. Scrivener is a great price of software.

That being said, I do agree with the creator of this discussion that the icons should be "modernized". While I understand the viewpoint of KB, and ultimately, that's obviously his decision, my personal opinion is that Scrivener does look completely out of place on 10.8 (or 10.7 for that matter).

Note that I'm not arguing about wether the icons are nice looking or not, that's obviously a matter of taste.

When looking at my Mac and all the applications I use everyday, Scrivener is one of the (very) rare application that still uses bright, pastel-colored icons. The other one, ironically, is Pages from Apple. Note however that Pages whose latest major version was released in 2009. Everything else on the system, from all the built-in apps to the majority of current, regularly-updated 3rd party apps (at least those that I use) have now transitioned to monochrome icons. I have also noticed the trend toward less icons in most apps.

Whether monochrome is a "fad" as KB said will ultimately be known in the future when new versions of the system are introduced. Meanwhile however, I don't know quite how you can argue that the app looks out of place. A simple comparison of the UI of Scrivener and the rest of the system applications make that point hard to argue (I'm talking strictly about the icons here, the everything else looks great and modern).

That being said, it's hardly end of the world and Scrivener is a great piece of software. Keep up the great work.

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robertdguthrie
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Tue Aug 07, 2012 1:22 pm Post

There is the option in Scrivener to remove the icons and just show the text associated with them. That'll help it match, yet still allow you to make use of the toolbar without the rest of us languishing in monochrome purgatory.
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SerenusZeitblom
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Tue Aug 07, 2012 1:34 pm Post

robertdguthrie wrote:The only thing that has blunted the impact is my use of Alfred to navigate much of the OS via my keyboard.


That's right, Alfred is a life-saver - especially if you come to (Mountain) Lion from Windows. Additionally, I restored the function keys to behave as they should, and now Ctrl+F2 puts me in that menu bar and the arrow keys do the rest...
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Tue Aug 07, 2012 6:08 pm Post

If you don't like colours, there is this setting on your Mac in the Universal Access system preference pane:

Image
.:.
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Jaysen
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Tue Aug 07, 2012 6:15 pm Post

AmberV wrote:If you don't like colours,

What? "Colours"? Have we lost you to the Queen as well?
Jaysen

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KB
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Tue Aug 07, 2012 6:35 pm Post

Jaysen wrote:What? "Colours"? Have we lost you to the Queen as well?


It's part of his employment contract.
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Tue Aug 07, 2012 6:41 pm Post

KB wrote:
Jaysen wrote:What? "Colours"? Have we lost you to the Queen as well?


It's part of his employment contract.

That probably explains the shortage of cheese-whats-its here as well.

Although I might have to draw the line if I hear about Ioa driving on the left side of the road.
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pigfender
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Tue Aug 07, 2012 10:58 pm Post

Okay, two quick examples... which do you find easier to follow?
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To my eyes, the bottom one wins out easily.

Also... how do you 'grey out' an icon that isn't in use if all the icons are grey to begin with?
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