The Alan Gilbert Setting

The incident last year in which Alan Gilbert stopped the New York Philharmonic toward the end of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 to demand an end to an iPhone’s marimba play-along and my own irritation with patrons at Carnegie Hall who do not heed the projected request to turn your devices off reminded me of an idea I posted for integrating phone ringer settings and calendar events. Here is the phone side of that idea, with the addition of location-based smarts to prevent the setting taking effect if you decide not to attend the event.

Sound and vibrate settings for a smartphone during a calendar event.
Device settings during an event.

The device should learn which setting is used for a given location and use that as the default once it can do so confidently — after maybe 2 or 3 uses of the same setting for the same location.

Chain of Commands

I’d like to see the app switcher’s ability to quit and hide applications extended to allow other commands to be sent to applications without having to exit the app switcher quasi-mode. This could be handy with browsers, writing tools, and media players.

HUD Commander

This would work best if the selected application’s windows were presented when using the switcher so you can see what you are acting on. If not, it may be best to limit the additional commands to those that appear in the application’s Dock menu (usually, create a new document or window) and have a keyboard shortcut.


Working with a laptop and large external display reminded me of an interface irritation particular to multi-monitor setups in which the displays are of different sizes. For instance, a stacked arrangement with the menu bar on the large display on top and the Dock on the small one below. You can easily move the cursor to the large display anywhere along the top of the smaller screen. The inverse is not true; there are portions of the large display that will not allow the cursor to move to the smaller display.

Gateways animation (use a respectable browser)

Graphics created in Fireworks, animated in Hype.

Design Notes

  1. I believe an indicator showing just the passthrough zone is the best design, but there are alternatives:
    1. Show indicators for the portions of the display that do not allow the cursor through
    2. Show indicators for both
    3. Keep the existing “mouse around until you find it” implementation
  2. The color of the indicator could be calculated based on the desktop background to ensure sufficient contrast.
  3. Some smarts about determining cursor movement direction (like that used to keep sub-menus open when the cursor is moved diagonally) would prevent the indicator from appearing when the cursor is moved toward a hot corner to activate Mission Control or an Exposé mode.
  4. The indicator is obviously not needed when moving between displays of the same size.

Zee Index!

A little feature for design apps such as Fireworks and Illustrator that would make it a bit easier to keep your layer stack straight.


  • The indicators in the Layers panel could be larger.
  • Ideally, the object bounds handles and layer position markers for selected and hovered would be different shapes. Squares for the selected objects, diamonds or circles for hovered, perhaps.

Historical Exposé

As of Mac OS X 10.7, applications that provide a list of Recent Items display these documents as thumbnails at the bottom of the screen in the App Windows Exposé mode. The concept could be expanded to allow developers to specify what information appears in this section.

Users could navigate the history by two-finger swiping left and right or clicking the page dots immediately above the thumbnails.

Browsing History

Current browser window with history thumbnails

  1. Notice the bookmark icon displayed atop the page third from the left; I’ve bookmarked the page, so the mark appears to help me identify it.
  2. Modified behavior should apply to clicks/taps on thumbnails just as with links; if I hold Command and tap on a thumb, it should open in a new tab or window as specified by the browser settings.

Listening History

Audio player window with previously heard track thumbnails

  1. Star ratings or a favorite icon could be displayed for tracks.
  2. Hovering over a track thumbnail could trigger a fast crossfade between the playing track (if any) and the hovered track, making it easier to relocate a song you don’t know by name. The key would be a bit of a delay on hover so it doesn’t trigger as you are simply moving the cursor across the screen.

Layers Cake

Fireworks‘ ability to share layers to multiple pages makes it much easier to build mockups sharing some screen elements. I suppose the feature enables use similar to how many designers use Photoshop’s Layer Comps, but without layers that you don’t want appearing cluttering up your panel and you can place a shared layer in a different stack position on each page. Great as the feature is, the UI for it has some problems:

  1. Fixed, relatively narrow width of the two panes; names get cut off around 25 characters (proportional font)
  2. Page numbers displayed in the Pages panel do not appear in the Share Layer to Pages modal window, which compounds the previous issue
  3. No page thumbnails to help you visually orient yourself
  4. No easy way to apply the sharing settings for one layer to another
  5. Newly shared layers are always placed at the top of the layer stack
  6. Button text labels consume space
  7. Button arrows are not graphical
  8. Vertical scrolltrack displayed regardless of need
  9. Though you can select multiple layers in the panel, only the last selected layer will be acted on; this makes it a real pain to create new pages once you’ve built up a set of layers that need to stay separate for flexibility
  10. The Escape key is not bound to the Cancel button
  11. Ok is not OK

I came up with three potential solutions with various pros and cons.

Multi-Layer Sharing Utility

This design would open to the current page by default (the canvas shows the selected page so you don’t need a thumbnail) and lets you share multiple layers to multiple pages in one pass. If a page already has one of several checked layers shared to it, the checkbox next to the page in the right pane would show the horizontal line mixed state.

Single Layer Sharing Popover

This could be invoked through the contextual menu on a top-level layer object on the canvas or, somewhat less smoothly, the existing Layers panel command (contextual or panel menu).

Modal Window with Usability Enhancements

Basically, let the whole window and the various panes be resized. I suspect most are not designing on 1024 x 768 displays anymore.