The Great ToolButton Slaughter

Looking back at early versions of FeedDemon, it’s obvious that I was raised in the Microsoft Office school of user-interface design.  Namely, fill your application with toolbuttons, the majority of which most people will never use.  Here, for example, is what the toolbars in the first version of FeedDemon looked like:

What on Earth was I thinking?  There were so many toolbuttons showing that I had to stack toolbars on top of each other to fit them all.  At the time I thought I was giving customers the features they wanted, but what I was really doing was scaring people away by overwhelming them with far too many choices.

Each version since then has been an exercise in killing toolbuttons.  By the time FeedDemon 2.0 rolled around, the toolbars were starting to look more sensible:

Much better, but really, the only toolbuttons that need to be showing all the time are the ones that most people will use all the time.  The other ones can be moved to menus and keyboard shortcuts, where they’re out of the way yet still accessible.

With that in mind, I’ve pared back the toolbars yet again in the upcoming FeedDemon 2.8:

As was the case with the sharing feature I discussed in my previous post, I should’ve taken a simpler approach with FeedDemon’s toolbars from the start.  I’ve learned the hard way that simplifying what you’ve already released is a lot harder than designing something simple to start with (especially since changing what existing customers have become used to is a sure way to annoy them).

PS: Power users who relied on previously available toolbuttons can always add them back – just click the “Customize” arrow at the far right of the toolbar.

13 thoughts on “The Great ToolButton Slaughter

  1. I love FeedDemon and use it all day every day and there are actually pretty much no features I actually find myself really wanting or needing, however there are a lot of things involving the UI which I do find annoying and do hope to see changed, generally involving, like you said, simplifying and rearragning so this is great to see
    One point though … the other problem with ye old ms office UI design isn’t just the toolbuttons, it’s also the duplication of features between toolbar buttons and the top menus… something which has always annoyed me personally.
    New MS user interfaces (the Ribbon, Windows Live and the Explorer from Vista and the future Win7) all remove that duplicity, and I think that’s great. If you really need to use those menus then alt works to bring them up, the most commonly used features are immediately accessible and the power-user or infrequently used features hidden away. Have you considered a UI more similar to this?
    What I also find as the major ommision from FeedDemon is the less than intuitive searching functions, have you considered creating a more prominant search box such as can be seen in Live Mail or Live Photo Gallery?
    Anyway, thats enough from an annoying end-user. =P
    Be happy to see whatever change you make.

  2. I am leading a global campaign of extermination against the unlabelled toolbar button. They are to desktop UI what mystery meat navigation was to 90’s web-design and they need to the same way…
    Seriously though – nearly always a bad idea. There are very few exceptions and I am baffled why one of the worst thought-out UI elements became one of the most ubiquitous. I can just about tolerate new/open/save/print as long as they use a system wide icon that everyone can become familiar with. Everything else descends into a guessing game.

  3. Compared to my customized toolbar, FD 2.8 looks positively garish. More seriously, I have the same instincts to trim things back, and have remarkably few buttons showing. Just the way my mind and fingers are wired, but I always find myself using other options to access these features. I enjoy that FD is willing to let me do my own thing. Too many other programs are not.

  4. We’ve had good luck with a relatively small number of large toolbar buttons, whose captions, icons and shortcuts change depending where the customer is in their ‘workflow’, and we mirror these in the menu items as well. Arranging them in alphabetical order seems to help as well – one of the few things that people seem to notice immediately and comment on.

  5. Interestingly the FeedDemon 2.8 button layout matches my customized button layout for FeedDemon 2.7. So it’s gotta be a good decision :-)

  6. If the “Next Page” button already exists in the status bar, is it really needed again in the top toolbar?
    Also, it would be nice if the Subscription Pane could function in a manner similar to Outlook 2007 panes. Meaning, I can select the minimized side bar just long enough to select a feed and then it would auto-collapse again.
    And, I wish I could add icons next to the menu bar…
    I mean, the empty space after “Help” on the menu bar is such a waste of space!
    Earlier this month, I posted my way of reducing Outlook Toolbar clutter. The “Optimized Outlook Layout” image may be useful to see how I reduced the toolbar space.

  7. Reducing toolbar buttons is great. But one consistent problem the UI has faced is that it is biased against keyboard users. In 2.7 for example, try to switch from Folder View to Unread Folder View. It should be as easy as:
    Alt+V (activate View menu)
    V (select View popup)
    F or U (select Folder View or Unread Folder View)
    The problem though is that the menu UI is horribly inconsistent in regard to menu mnemonics. Please use the ‘&’ in your menu text for ALL menu items.

  8. My reaction was similar to Jeroen-bart’s. This is very similar to my current menu layout that I’ve gradually paired down to. Anything that moves the application to ‘coffee cup’ navigation is welcome here.

  9. My only problem with the cut down UI is that you keep resetting my customised layout every time I upgrade :P
    I just can’t live without two buttons – show news items and reverse order. I also add the feed home button because I find it useful sometimes.

  10. Hi, I’m really afraid of what FeedDemon is becoming in the next version…
    (OK, I’m not 80 years old yet, and I know change is generally good, but I don’t want to be caught using the program and not knowing where is this, where is that, how can I do what I used to do before…)
    Is there any way that I can install the new version side by side with the old one?

  11. @aude: I’m afraid it’s not possible to install two versions side-by-side, at least not without some negative side effects. What exactly is it that you’re concerned about?

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