Don’t make me think! (But please allow me to.)

My friend Brendan visited me from New York this past weekend. Brendan is a CCT friend and so naturally we talked about “CCT stuff.” I started the Apple Music three month trial earlier that week and was telling him how amazing the curated playlists are on that service. My colleague Noah captures my feelings on the subject pretty well.

Playlists was (is) about where the magic ended for me and eventually we covered everything we loved about Apple products like OS X, Final Cut, Aperture, and, yes, iTunes, and how all of them have declined or been killed off in the last few years. At some point Brendan said something that stuck with me. “It’s like they’re just saying: Don’t think about it! We got this.”

At first I thought ‘but that’s the whole point! You shouldn’t have to think!’ Steve Krug literally wrote a book about interface design called “Don’t Make me Think!” But Krug never said “don’t allow your users to think.”

Photos, the all-in-one iPhoto and Aperture replacement, is a good example to illustrate Brendan’s point. The cool thing about iPhoto was that you didn’t have to think. Photos has this neat feature where you can open an old Aperture or iPhoto library in Photos by simple double clicking or dragging the library onto the Dock icon, but then Photos makes a ton of assumptions for you. The big one: It assumes you opened it because you want to convert that library for use with Photos.

This is fine if that’s what you want to do but it’s not. Maybe you have an iPhoto libary that’s separate from your Aperture library. Maybe you recently got married and want to merge your family’s libraries into one and you’re opening them to see what’s inside. In either of those two cases, the experience you get is:

  1. Photos fires itself up
  2. Apple tries to sell you an iCloud Photo Library
  3. It starts creating a new Photos library from your original without telling you where the new library was created, what it’s called, or giving you an opportunity to choose an alternative. (And there’s no way to cancel.)

Lets say that original library started in 2004 and has about 70 GB of photos in it. That last step is going to take a long time and there’s nothing you can do about it. Once it completes, you might wonder:

  • Where are these photos I’m looking at?
  • Was my original Aperture library destroyed?
  • Will it still work in Aperture or iPhoto?
  • Is the new library referencing the same photos that are in the Aperture Library or did Photos create copies?
  • Is this the default library now? What if I want to open a different one?
  • If the original isn’t trashed and I open it in Photos again, will it create another new library?
  • If I open another old library, will it import those photos into the same library I just created or create new ones?

Apple has no answers for these questions.

iPhoto had this great feature that was common across most of Apple’s creative apps: Show in Finder. If you were trying to find the original of a photo to copy it or open it in a different app, you could ctrl + click the photo and choose “Show in Finder” and :boom: there it’d be in the Finder.

Photos has no such option, at least not on ctrl + click.

Photos context menu when control clicking on a photo.

It does have an option in the File menu called “Show Referenced File in Finder” but I’ve only seen it greyed out.

The contents of the File menu in Photos

The “Get Info” option doesn’t give you that information either.

The get info card in photos

You can’t even drag the photo to the Finder icon on the Dock. Apple to Boone: “Don’t think about where the file is, man! You don’t need to worry about it. Just keep snappin’ away on your iPhone and everything will be alright.”

The thing is, everything might not be alright. That’s why I need to know where the file is. And when you start breaking it down, MacBooks are the same way: On MacBook hardware: “Don’t worry about it, you probably want a new computer if something is broken.” Nobody literally says that to you, your computer gives you no other choice.

The beauty of iPhoto when I first used it was that it didn’t make me think. Every other photo manager out there was complicated, janky, and tied to the camera you bought. iPhoto worked with every camera and imported your photos in intuitive ways and that was great. Most of the time that’s all I needed to do. But sometimes I needed to get my photos out of the Finder and iPhoto made that possible. Sometimes, despite all of Apple’s best intentions, I wanted, no needed to think and Apple enabled me.

This “Don’t let them think” design movement seems to have cascaded out of the original iPhone and in the last couple years has infected OS X and even Macs. It’s a troubling trend that hopefully will spurn people against Apple enough for them to change. I want Apple Music to be great, I really do, but playlists alone won’t be enough. I want to be an Apple fan boy again, but it’s just not happening.