The PC: Cluttered Up & Distracting
AKA: The Problems With PCs
The Folder Problem: There are Folders Everywhere!
After a brand new installation of Windows, macOS, or Linux operating systems the user is presented with a set of built-in folders the first time they open a file management window. On macOS for instance the Finder displays ‘All Files’, ’Documents’, ‘Desktop’, ‘Downloads’, ‘Home’, ‘Computer’, ‘Airdrop’, ‘Network’, ‘iCloud’, ‘Applications’, ‘Utilities’, ’Movies’, ‘Music’, ‘Pictures’, and ‘Photos’.
Though it’s not readily apparent, a couple are virtual folders, some are real folders, and some may never be used by the user. Thinking about it further, we see that one folder is interface-based (‘Desktop’), one is function-based (‘Downloads’), three require a connection to another computer to be useful (‘Airdrop’, ‘Network’, ‘iCloud’) and the rest represent an incomplete set of type-based folders (‘Pictures’, ‘Music’ et al).
All of them lack a clear indication of how they relate to one another in the overall hierarchy.
Yet they are all displayed together at the same time for the sake of convenience, regardless of the context the user is in.
Such a preference for visual convenience over structural logic and functional delineation creates problems of unnecessary distraction
The Folder Solution Part 1: Provide a Fixed, Comprehensive and Durable Set of Type-Based Folders
Offer a small, fixed number of type-based folders that account for every single file type and application output. Design the folder names around fundamental file types that are durable and long-lasting. What makes sense today should make sense 20 years from now.
The Folder Solution Part 2: Put All User Objects into One Container
All the user’s stuff (apps, files, configuration settings and preferences) should be located in a single folder that serves as a all-inclusive container. The container should be completely separate from system related files.
The folder should be flat, minimally nested, portable, and intuitively arranged. Should a user purchase a new computer, they should be able to move the folder to a external device or the cloud and bring it into the new computer without any complications.
What’s more, the single container solution will also be applicable to storage mediums like external disks, thumb drives, writable optical disks, and even cloud storage services.
Such a solution would abide by a concept championed by John Maeda in the 2016 Design In Tech Report, namely to “Hide complexity behind a simple door.”
Combining the single container idea with the fix set of type folders, we can begin to see the type folders will act as the default storage location. Unless the user specifies a specific project folder for a file, the files will filter down into these type folders.
The Cognitive Leak Problem: Lots of Prompts To Navigate
Right now, anytime we want to save a new file we are prompted to provide a filename and presented with a list of directory locations in which to save the file. This little hiccup in our workflow is something we’ve all gotten accustom to. Sometimes we have a filename and folder location already in mind, other times we create a folder ad hoc, but more often than not we save the file in whatever location is convenient. Our messy Desktops and overfilled Downloads folders are evidence of our bias toward not wanting to think about file management when we are in a rush to save or download a file.
The Cognitive Leak Solution: Minimize Prompts by Automatically Organizing Everything
We already tend to not give a thought about where we save our files. That’s what causes the problems.
Let’s leverage that tendency so that we only have to reference one location for saving files.
In the background, the system will figure out where the file belongs in a predictable way. The whole system will be governed by just a few rules.
The File Name Problem: No Incentive For Users To Properly Name New Files
The average Mac user has 65 files named “Untitled” and 257 named “Screen Shot” on their file system. Well at least I do. When we are in a rush and trying to get things done, coming up with a file name on the spot is oftentimes a task we choose to skip. So we end up with a lot of files that are named with whatever filename the system defaulted to when we mindlessly responded to the “Save As:” prompt.
The Search Problem: Search is Resource Intensive & Distracting
A fast search mechanism coming to the desktop has felt like a godsend for many people. Two or three taps on the keyboard and we can almost instantaneously zero in on the file or app we are looking for.
However there are some trade-offs: When search stops working due to indexing problems or even if we simply forget the name of the file, we are lost. When it does work — which is the majority of the time — we are briefly presented with a myriad of unrelated files that may or may not be related to the task at hand.
The File Name & Search Solution: Incentivize Users to Apply Meaningful Filenames by Using the Filename to Control Where the File is Stored
If giving a file a meaningful name keeps things organized and reduces additional steps like directory navigation and folder creation, users will start doing it.
Once meaningful file names are used in large numbers, the returned results from search will become more useful and less distracting.
The ‘It’s Already A Mess’ Problem: There’s No Easy Way to Organize an Existing Mess
The problem speaks for itself. Many of us are digital hoarders. Oftentimes the only time we start thinking about deleting files is when we start to run out of disk space.
The It’s Already a Mess Solution: An Auditing System
A simple auditing system that allows the user to skim through their files and make informed decisions about what to keep, what to trash, and what to save for archival.