I recently stumbled across this post on IndieHIG about the folder icons in OS X Leopard. One of the main critiques is that the folder icons all have the same silhouette, which is thought to be one of the “pre-cognitive” ways we recognize visual things (like icons). Several of the replies in the comments section argue that this “unique silhouette” idea is nonsense, arguing that color and interior features are more important. Well, the plural of anecdote is not data, but I’ve got one anyway, and it’s a good excuse to talk about the improved camera tools that will be available in the beta*.
The old view toolbar in ShapeShop looked like this:
The three blue icons are dolly/zoom, pan, and tumble. You use them by dragging on them. The slick cube on the right, which I rendered in Maya, is for picking fixed views (ie F is front view, etc). It’s actually a whole menu of views, I left off the little black triangle that can be dragged to “pull down” the menu. I kind of suspect that most ShapeShop users don’t actually know how it works. It was an experiment, which is best forgotten, because the new view toolbar looks like this:
Two big changes. One, no more view buttons. Two, the tumble icon (which looked almost exactly like the pan icon) has been replaced with a “procedural” icon – a little blue cube that spins around as you manipulate the camera. It actually works better too – it uses a “turntable” tumble, like you’d find in Maya, rather than a full Arcball (which is always horribly broken in my opinion), and it has a non-linear response so that you can really fine-tune the view by moving the mouse slowly. You’re going to like it, I promise.
But, I digress. The main point is that the new tumble icon/widget has a silhouette that is (often) nearly identical to the old view-picker icon:
So, the question is, does this silhouette similarity have any effect? In my (extremely frustrating) experience: yes. Even though they have reasonably different colors, one has a big black F on it, and they are different sizes, I cannot for the life of me manage to hit the old rotate icon without first clicking on the bloody “F” cube, dragging around on the screen, and wondering why nothing is happening. Every single time I have to demo ShapeShop v002, I end up looking like an idiot, because I can’t even use my own camera controls. Argh.
So, I think the “unique silhouette” argument holds some water. There is one other possibility, which is that the tumble icon has replaced the “F”-cube-icon as the semantically “last” icon in the view toolbar. Because of how I position the toolbar, the new tumble icon is in the same physical location as the old tumble icon. There is just nothing to the right of it anymore. So maybe that’s it. But my money is on the shape.
You might wonder why I got rid of the view-picking buttons, which are a pretty useful feature (especially in a sketch-based modeling tool). Well, I replaced it with something a bit more integrated. If you draw a “crossing” stroke across the boundary of the icon, as shown below on the left, it will turn red. When you tumble the red cube, you’ll find that it “snaps” the camera when you get close to the cube faces, edges, and corners. This gives you more pickable views (40 instead of 6), uses up less screen real-estate (3 icons instead of 4), and is both easier to use and more efficient than the pull-down menu. That qualifies as a “win”, I think…
* Yes, the beta is en route. But don’t expect miracles until after the Eurographics deadline….