Rethinking the interface

Jevon MacDonald’s article “Dead Paradigms in Applications” trashed on patterns used by “lazy developers”, like the Save Button (“What should a user have to Save that you shouldn’t have already saved for them?”) and the File (“Creating a file… is dead dead dead. I create content.”).

His article reminded me of the radical new GUI, “SUGAR”, designed by the One Laptop Per Child project. Instead of software applications, SUGAR has “Activities”. Instead of folders and files, SUGAR has a “Journal”.

Screenshot - SUGAR journal
Screenshot of SUGAR’s Journal concept

SUGAR is great. And Jevon raises good points. But patterns (like the Yahoo! Design Pattern Library, for example) allow designers to accept many things as conventions, as foundational elements, and focus their efforts on the parts of the application that make it unique. Patterns can be great, even when they’re old.

So what’s a pragmatic approach for ThoughtFarmer?

  1. No more save buttons. Jevon’s right, we should auto-save everything.
  2. No more folders. We have tags and search. We should continue to stay away from folders.
  3. More visualizations. Social networks are best presented visually. Moritz Stefaner’s Relationship Browser has been working great for us — we should capitalize on this new navigational paradigm.
    ThoughtFarmer Relationship Browser
    ThoughtFarmer’s Relationship Browser
  4. Embrace the Journal. SUGAR’s Journal makes sense. It should be the pattern for our improved Recent Changes feature.
    Recent changes 2.5
    Recent Changes portlet for ThoughtFarmer 2.5

We’re not quite ready to get rid of Projects, Permissions, Pages and Configurations, all of which Jevon calls “dead”. But he forced us to challenge some of our assumptions, and that’s always a good thing.

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