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afterglow's picture
571 pencils

Desk - Rethinking the Finder

In the past few years , OS X has given Apple a second whirlwind romance with public opinion. It's software, UI effects and "just works" mojo have caused a great ripple of curiosity through previously skeptical PC users.
While the rest of the computing experience on the Mac has jumped forward the file manager used by nearly every single Mac user has puffed along by comparison.

Comparing the Finder of an old Performa chugging away on 0S 7 and Tiger's sleek GUI, the actual functions and implementation haven't changed hugely. So after using the Finder for a decade for media and graphic work, I've come to certain conclusions .

[*]The Desktop and Finder are two sides of the same file management coin. The best way of getting people into the bad habit of dumping files into an unrelated area. The desktop is just a folder that obscures everything else.

[*]The majority of time is spent navigating for folders, opening files and viewing location info.

[*]My desktop picture never gets seen as it's covered with multiple overlapping windows during the normal multitasking day.

[*]I go to the Finder as an interruption to my workflow, not part of it. Dipping in to find a file, switching between windows, scanning through columns, expanding the window, scrolling horizontally, etc.

[*]Expose and Dashboard give an indication of how you can execute file and system functions in a single layer.

[*]I grew out of metal (brushed or otherwise) when Faith No More split up.


As an excercise in thinking through Photoshop one day. I mocked up what I would think would help someone in dealing with their information dump all day. This is one step behind vaporware as it currently exists in only in a Quicktime Movie and PDF. But that never stopped any PR department.

So Desk was born ...


Option 1: [url=]Click for full screen image[/url]

Option 2: [url=]3.1mb Quicktime Movie[/url] of "Desk" in action or [url=]1.2mb PDF[/url] of the process

[color=#cc6600]Desk - The Bastard Offspring of Finder and Desktop[/color]
So what we now have is a single pane which incorporates the Desktop, Finder in one layer and acommodates the Dock. Yes it's one of those single window Finder concepts. (The horror, the horror) The Dock gets it's own background colour preference for consistent viewing no matter what program is floating behind it.

Clicking on the "Desktop" or Desk Icon in the Dock bring Desk to the foreground as well as expanding the menubar downwards. When another program is in the foreground the Desk can dim in the same manner as Expose and Dashboard dim the background.(It could dim to a picture for those unwilling to give up their attachment to desktop pictures)

The blue "Function Bar" on the right hand side contains context sensitive functions that would change according to whether the selected item was a folder, image, mp3 etc. In terms of scrolling the scroll bars would appear on the left of the Function Bar so it is always visible regardless of how deep in the folder structure you are.

[i]One Click and the Desktop Picture fades away[/i]

The Sidebar stays in static position on the far left of the screen. In addition to the normal sidebar file and folder shortcuts, there are three extra icons , Projects, Recent Searches and Clipboard

[color=#cc6600]Projects - A New Concept...Almost[/color]
Most people using their Mac for business will have numerous pieces of data in emails, photoshop documents, word files etc that are related to each other.
A smart folder can do most of the legwork in gathering this info. Inching this concept forward just a tad, an Assign to Project Folder action would create an alias like a Smart Folder and automatically add the Project name to the Spotlight comments field.
Opening up a project folder would list the resources associated with the Project such as number of files, contacts and emails.

[color=#cc6600]Recent Searches[/color]
Desk could contain the five most recent Spotlight searches. The same reasoning why Safari retains it's recent Google searches.

Since the Desk would not spawn any new windows like the current Finder, this Clipboard folder would show items currently in memory. This could also be used as a shelf to store items before moving them on. People will initially balk at having only one layer to work with but consider why you usually have multiple finder windows open. For me I am dragging folders, copying...all work that could be made easier if I could place files to one side and then move to my destination at a time of my own choosing. Pathfinder, a Finder alternative already uses this concept of a Shelf.

So here were my aims for this were:

[*]Combine the Finder and Desktop into one hybrid pane of information.

[*]Make the conventions roughly similar to the present Finder.

[*]Keep options and functions out of the way until they would naturally be needed.

[*]Find a natural way to organise Projects.

[*]Make it light and easy to look at while banishing as much scrolling as possible. Take back screen real estate, especially for laptop users.

[*]Be easily navigable by keyboard and numeric keypad. The numbered functions make executing a function a case of looking at the list.

[*]Have the flow of Data be from left to right Location > Information > Function.

[*]Incorporate an area where files and folders can be placed temporarily until they are moved to a location. (Shelf/Visible Clipboard, etc).

[*]Have the Directory Structure visible at the top of the pane at all times.

[*]Be available at a keystroke similar to Expose and Dashboard. Show Desktop in Expose would, in practical terms, launch Desk
In my teenage years, I once spent 12 hours trying to rotate a virtual turtle in BASIC. My programming career began and died the same day on that Amstrad. My Photoshop and mockup skills are a bit better so that's the way this virtual app currently works. As mentioned before this is one step behind Vaporware but no one has overpromised and underdelivered yet.

Simply food for thought and I'd love to hear other thoughts on what would make the Finder..found.

Cian Walsh is an Icon and Interface Designer who has a Finder voodoo doll to keep it in line.

Commenting on this Blog entry is closed.

Pete's picture
52 pencils

You're trying to save time when working and you still found enough to think of all this?!! J/K

This rang true with me:

"My desktop picture never gets seen as it's covered with multiple overlapping windows during the normal multitasking day."

I laugh every time I see posts in forums with user-created desktop-wallpaper. My response is always the same- if you're working hard enough, you never see it.

jSchwa's picture
37 pencils

1) I really like this idea.

2) Not nearly enough Faith No More references on cbits.

hanamichy's picture
66 pencils

have you ever thought of working for apple?

Static's picture

i think apple would need such a creative designer as afterglow is! and i realy like the idea...

Jammo's picture
-4 pencils

Cian, your work and ideas are brilliant, you should definatly look for a career working for them, as a gui artist or software development engineer or something, damn dude, you're awesome.

Love the idea too, and your artwork is amazing too ;)


Dan's picture
33 pencils

Let's hope Leopard brings a complete Finder overhaul and introduces us to a new way of organizing and working with files.

Josh's picture
151 pencils

Looks like you've pondered this quite a bit!

I think it's a fabulous idea - and honestly, one way or the other I think it should somehow find it's way to Apple.

I'd love such functionality in OS X.

Josh Stevens | Nautilus7 Design
My CB Blog

Josh Stevens | My Site
My CB Blog

JimD's picture
2626 pencils

But there's an app that gets you about 60% of the way there called PathFinder and it features the integrated dock, clipping area, file information, etc... It's actually quite an awesome little app. It basically takes over the entire Finder. Give it a try... I think you'll actually like it after just a little use.


Visit The Graphic Mac for graphics and Mac OS tips, reviews, tutorials and discussion.

afterglow's picture
571 pencils

I had mentioned it in the article and had used it for a period but the interface just felt too cluttered for me. I'm still longing for a fullscreen finder. The screenshots of v4 look quite promising though.

Ivan's picture

Cian, you nailed it. I was thinkin about how to redesign the Finder for quite some time now. I was thinking more of a split two window approach but I think the blue sidebar is somewhat similar to that. I really like the assign to project function. Let's hope engineers somewhere in Cupertino are reading cb. :)

tripdragon's picture
416 pencils

hrmmssss very cool. but it is still a sandwich of stuff and features and surfing. Still very cool.

I would like four features.

One click buttons

Custom Icon layout, Like if we could arrange the icons folders and files into shapes via a vector file. Alot of designers mold files around to keep a visual reminder of what is what and where is where. This method would make it so much faster to create and edit.

A Zoom in and out view for icons, like surfing a photohop file, we need a zoom in and out besides just increaseing the size of the window or hard resizeing the entire folders icons in that float menu..

Rollover folders to show it's contents before even going into to the folder.

workys --->>

lrenhrda's picture
207 pencils

SymphonyOS's Mezzo is very much like this. Apple would benefit greatly from depending more on things like Dashboard and Expose for their file-organizing potential.

LoveBeingADad's picture
20 pencils

It is great to see someone take the time to do this. Nicely done. Single window would be very nice. Sometimes when I use expose to find another window there are so many windows it looks as cluttered as my desktop.

With a single window how would you drag copy a file to another place? Is it a drag-hover-then drop? I often open several finder windows as I drag and drop between them. I see "copy" in the blue zone at the that how you move them?

Ivan's picture

If I understood correctly there is a transit area in the sidebar. So you drag stuff to the transit. Navigate to the new folder and drag stuff from transit to the new folder. Works for me. Much better than drag and drop. However I realize that new users may get really confused with this. I think this should be an option but not to replace the regular windows. Although, I think new users get confused by having many windows open as well. So, I'm not sure..

afterglow's picture
571 pencils

Well drag and drop could work normally in column and icon view by dragging on top of either the sidebar icons or a folder . I would see people being able to drag on top of the "path" line at the top of the window in any view so they could easily hop up a few levels in the folder structure.

The Clipboard's contents could also be viewable in the sidebar by clicking the expand arrow. You can then drag and drop without losing sight of the files while you search for a new folder.

Tigerstorm's picture
1009 pencils

First of all.. Great work on this Cian.. I'm always astonished by your work =)
I just wonder when Steve will phone you and employ you :)

firsty's picture
1 pencil

this article is very interesting to me. what i do now to keep my desktop cleanish is:

1. use quicksilver for launching, moving files. there are also clipboard plugins, and everything is directed with keystrokes. handy.

2. use desktop manager to switch "desktop" views. i usually keep two or three finder windows open on one of my desktops, so i can maneuver around servers/folders that way. also on that desktop i have a finder window open to my attached laptop. etc. i can switch between desktop views with a keystroke as well.

3. i maintain only 5 folders on my desktop. one of them is called "inbox". for one thing, this is where i have my browser set to download files. so i can download a bunch of, for instance, application freeware/trials there and even tho i'm not going to get to them right away, they dont clutter up my workspace.

i never liked expose much; i use command-` to get thru windows in an app, and the dock or command-tab is fine for me to navigate between apps.

i'd really like this concept tho.

Radii0's picture
1 pencil

I appreciated a lot this article. The base of this issue is being discussed a lot in forums and blogs, but no-one has made a graphic proposal before.

However, I think that the solution presented is too much "complete" to the Apple style of producing graphic interfaces. I mean by this, the introduction of "projects" and "clipboard" into Desk (Finder) and the elimination of the Desktop. I appreciate the task based column (even if I think that the design is unbalanced), but I also think that it completes too much the user actions... I agree with the necessity of the introduction of tasks in the Finder, but I would like them to be a little bit more flexible, you should be able to : 1) decide whether or not you want task suggestions, and 2) create your own tasks and processes of doing them.

Apple is smart. When I was trying to guess how Tiger would face to the task interface model, I could not imagine that the answer was Automator. I think that the idea of Automator is by far superior of anything else here, but it is still in progress : It's principal lag is not being greatly integrated with the Finder. As I said, Automator should give you suggestions of tasks ("not as obvious as "copy", that is suggested by the action menu), but for exemple, if you select a bunch of images, then Automator could suggest "Play slideshow", "Publish in .Mac", "Add to iPhoto", "Compress", "Rename", "Batch enhance", etc.

I think moreover that the Finder is the worst Apple application. Why a company who produced historic apps like iMovie, and iTunes, and super-apps like Final Cut and Motion, can't go beyond the limits with its "file manager"?

Phosphor's picture
201 pencils

This article was given a nice mention, and praise was given to CreativeBits in general, over on The Unofficial Apple Weblog ( today.

el_reverend's picture
134 pencils

While I do like the idea of invoking the finder just like exposé, the dashboard or ye olde Konfabulator, I think Apple made it fairly easy to do just that. Yes, I'd like to see a bit of an improvement, but what to do with the desktop (folder) is a whole other story.
Like rottenwomb posted above (inlcuding the nice pic) the finder is available to function almost like this.

Enter AppleScript:

I have created a little script that opens the finder to almost fill the screen, changes the view to Column View and shows the content of your homefolder. Now thanks to Butler (or any other launcher[Why not OSX]) I can call my (since I saved it as an application) via my F12 key, just like exposé.

Now this is not by any means a perfect solution and if anyone has any suggestions on how to do this easier (is there a global keybord shortcut to show a finder window?), please let me know. For anyone who woud like to test this out here is my script (save as application):

-- 2005 - Sebastian A. spamhaus@mac*com
-- A little script that calls the finder, changes its view to column view and almost fills the entire screen.
-- If the script detects an already open finder window, it will just the existing one and adjust the size and position.
-- Set a folder here to be opened when invoked by the script. Write the folder name exactly as you see it in the finder. If you have a space character in the name of the folder use this character before the space character: \

set MyHome to "Users:yourusername"

-- Hello Finder?
tell application "Finder"

if (count windows) is 0 then
reveal startup disk
-- set the window size of the finder window. (right, top, width, height)
set bounds of front window to {5, 82, 1276, 798}
set current view of front window to column view
set target of front Finder window to MyHome
get id of front window
set FinderID to the result
set collapsed of every Finder window whose id is FinderID to false
-- see window size above
set bounds of front window to {5, 82, 1276, 798}
set current view of front window to column view

end if
end tell

nickdynamite's picture
1 pencil

"grew out of metal"?

what exactly are you implying?

Ivan's picture

nickdynamite welcome to cb!

your homepage doesn't load! ;)

afterglow's picture
571 pencils

Ah I still love my metal but I got a bit more interested in other music as well. When you're younger you tend to be into one style to the detriment of everything else. Not putting down the headbangers...

Spiken's picture
2 pencils

A bit of this has been implemented into an applicaton, by a German guy. Check out for more info! It's a bit bloated, and it's not as elegant as your sugestion, but hey, it's working :)

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