Dialog Button Keyboard Shortcuts

Some Mac dialogs have keyboard shortcuts; Command-D for Don’t Save is probably the most common. One way to make these handy shortcuts a wee bit more discoverable is to display the Command symbol ? (what is sometimes referred to as the “flower”) and desaturate everything but the shortcut key letter when the Command key is depressed.

For the common Save dialog, you would see this when Command is held down:

Save sheet with overlaid Command symbol

The iTunes Info window:

iTunes' Info window with overlaid Command symbol

Ellington & Coltrane together — what could be better?!

The relevant buttons would need to be resized to comfortably accommodate the Command symbol.

A Dim View of Menus

If all of a menu’s commands are unavailable (dimmed) at the same time, dim the menu title. Users should still be able to open a dimmed menu to see its contents.

Aqua Human Interface Guidelines: The Menu Bar and Its Menus

If all of a submenu’s commands are unavailable (dimmed) at the same time, dim the submenu title.

Aqua HIG: Hierarchical Menus (Submenus)

For most applications, if no windows are open or on screen, only the application menu, File (or equivalent), and Help should be available and displayed as standard fully saturated black text. Assuming none of their contained commands are usable in this context, the Edit, View, and Window (unless there are minimized windows) menu titles should be dimmed.

Why don’t most OS X developers implement menu title dimming? Apple’s own adherence to these guidelines is less than stellar (see iCal, iPhoto [both of which have the View menu in the wrong place], iChat, Mail, Preview, and Address Book for proof), so I’m not surprised that third-parties have not stuck to it. If there is some technical reason that it is difficult to do, it is understandable that developers would invest their resources in more obvious and/or important issues.

iTunes is one of the only applications I know of that implements top-level menu title dimming (it has no submenus to dim), which I think is unfortunate given the potential benefit to users — quickly focusing their attention on the commands that are available in the current application state.

Fixing the Mac OS X Dock poof

The Dock adds a whole new behavior: Object annihilation. Drag an object off the dock and it disappears in a virtual puff of smoke. This is the single scariest idea introduced to the Macintosh since the original bomb icon. How would you feel if you spent eight hours working on your first Macintosh document, only to have it disappear entirely when you try to move it from the dock to the desktop? Pretty disorienting, no? This is a completely unnecessary concept for the user to have to learn, particularly in such a painful way. Makes for a “hot demo” though, doesn’t it?

Bruce Tognazzini — Top 10 Reasons the Apple Dock Sucks

While I don’t agree with Bruce Tognazzini’s desire to transform much of OS X’s interface into the “Classic” Mac UI, I do think his complaint about the Dock poof is valid. It can easily lead users to believe that whatever they have dragged out of the Dock has been permanently erased. I wonder how many frantic support calls Apple has received from users who believe their application, folder, or document has just been nuked after dragging it off the Dock.

Rather than using the potentially confusing smoke poof, Apple should use the same zooming animation used for opening and closing windows and drag-and-dropping objects. For those who don’t display their drives on the desktop, a fading effect would occur. Fading is far from perfect, but I think it is significantly better than the smoke poof. Getting a bit more complex, the removed object could be “absorbed” into its containing folder or disk, which would temporarily appear at the point the object was dropped complete with name & label if any.

The Red Badge of Urgency

If at some point in the near future Mail natively has the ability to assign X-Priority (rather than using the MailPriority plug-in), it would be nice if Mail’s Dock icon badge would change color depending on the priority of incoming messages.

  1. Priority 1
  2. Priority 2
  3. Priority 3
  4. Priority 4
  5. Priority 5

I’d like to thank all the wonderful people at the Department of Fatherland Security for the bang-up job on color selection! I can’t count the number of times I’ve been reassured by the color coded terra threat system! For such a macho, homophobic administration, this color scheme sure does have some semblance to a certain flag commonly seen at gay pride parades… Makes you wonder!

The badge would take on the color of the highest priority unviewed item(s). The colors would have to be carefully chosen to maximize their effectiveness with the large number of people who have some form of color blindness. The Priority 3 color is not very readable. A purple hue might work.

For applications which provide a dock counter badge and networked content that can be rated, the badge color could be tied to such ratings. If I rated a feed 5 stars in my feed reader, the Dock badge would turn red whenever that or any other 5-star feeds were updated. The badge would change color as the user worked through the content.

I know some people would find the color changes irritating, so an option to disable them would be good.