Delighting in the details

Interface designer Neven Mrgan made a good point on Friday:

Touch gestures are the new keyboard shortcuts, but the difference is delight: no one ever saw ⌘⇧S and thought “awesome!”

To which I say: Well, no normal person, maybe. 🙂

I remember learning Photoshop and discovering that holding Option would turn Cancel buttons into Reset buttons.  “They didn’t have to do that,” I thought–delighted.  Later when I learned After Effects, the teacher showed that Shift-dragging did one thing while Option-dragging did another.  I asked how one would do both things at once, and though he didn’t know, when I combined the modifiers, sure enough, it worked as I wanted.  “My people, my people…” I thought. And just the other day, I took enormous pride in persuading the Photoshop team to get the semantics of a new shortcut just exactly right.

It’s craftsmanship that counts*, and delight flows from the feeling of speed, power, and control. Whatever the surface, let my fingers–and my brain–fly.


* As Photoshop godfather Mark Hamburg observed, “People pay for features because it’s easier to justify the expense. People adore polish because it makes the product feel good, and that adoration will carry you farther in the long run than features.”

10 thoughts on “Delighting in the details

  1. One of the many things that always puzzled me about photoshop. Why not just have a Reset button on the various windows? There is plenty of room.
    [Right, but there wasn’t room many years ago, and adding such an icon hasn’t been a priority. (I argued that it should be, especially when we had to go through the UI as part of the Carbon-to-Cocoa effort. There have always been bigger fish to fry, and people have reasonably argued that sticking in yet more buttons in PS might not be a good thing.) –J.]
    Seemed kind of silly that someone has to happen across a tutorial or a book to find out about alt-clicking on the Cancel button. Same with the Layers pallette. So many different areas on just one layer to right-click.
    How about scrubby sliders? Only learned that while at Kelby seminar many years ago. Why not have a small button with back and forth arrows next to the settings area instead of having to learn about it from a book or video.
    It’s like the programmers wanted to keep some very simple things hidden unless your more of a power user?
    Or (while I’m on a rant) what about a notice in the option bar when you have a selection hidden? How many times have I had to figure out why something wasnt working as it should, only to remember I had a selection hidden?
    End of rant 🙂

    1. No, please don’t add more buttons.
      For a really messed up interface, see Open Office. They have four buttons on some dialogues (Ok, Cancel, Help, Back) and were thinking about adding a fifth (Apply) a while ago. It looks really clumsy and is definitely not the best way to go.
      Sometimes, a clever shortcut for the pros is better than a clumsy interface. In the long run, you’ll be better off.

  2. I agree, Photoshop is truly fantastic in the shortcut department. So many features with hidden shortcuts that absolutely make sense when you discovered them. I still discover new one from time to time 🙂
    Looking forward to see Photoshop’s UI being streamlined/polished such as consistent slider UI element, fixed broken/stretched UI elements, etc. Also lessening the use of modal window would be so great.
    Eager to see what’s improved in CS6 🙂

  3. Count me as another one who gets excited about a good keyboard shortcut… and is frustrated by bad ones. Programs where you have to hold down the shift before you select an image corner if you want it to be proportional… what are they thinking?
    And also agree that all too often people look at a bullet list of high end features and assume they must be the same on different programs. Anyone who has ever been told GIMP is comparable to Photoshop knows the type. 🙂

  4. Imagine the delight when Adobe figures out a way to integrate Adobe Configurator in an App like Adobe Nav for Ipad and Android 4. All tools, shortcuts, actions and scripts touch-operated from your tablet / smartphone. Even the basic Configurator 1 functionality would bring thousands of smiles from users.
    [Yeah, I tried to achieve precisely that instead of building Adobe Nav. So it goes. –J.]

  5. Conversely, imagine the frustration of having years of muscle memory denied because Lion says “Save As…” is dead. Not only that, but “Duplicate” has no shortcut, requires another “Save” and Command-D doesn’t trigger “Don’t Save” anymore. Argh.
    [Yeah. As you may well know, you now hit Cmd-Delete to trigger “Don’t Save.” –J.]
    I admire Apple’s willingness to rethink even the most basic of actions, but when you’re replacing such an essential, deeply polished and engraved command, you really have to sweat the details and aim for at least the same amount of finish as you had before.

  6. I think, the claimed delight will die down, once these interfaces are more commonplace. I see swipes and pinche-gestures popping up all over the place, in many cases merely to be fancy and up-to-date. Fancyness itself does not make a great user experience. Getting the job done does.
    In the long run, the useful gestures will be integrated into a workflow which complements keyboard (when available), mouse (when available), stylus (when available) touch (when available) and probably a whole lot of other interfaces that i haven’t thought of.

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