Posts Tagged ‘user interface’

Unusual Lightroom Error

August 17, 2009
Failed to Find a Place?

Failed to Find a Place?

Here’s an error message I haven’t seen before. Maybe it was because I was starting a new Import while Lightroom was Rendering 1:1 Previews of the prior Import. So much for multi-tasking. I waited until the task finished, tried again and it was fine.

I wonder what it was trying to tell me. I cannot see it was a file system problem – NTFS is rock solid. It must have been something like it could not get a database lock on the catalog.

Unlike the “A non-empty name must be provided” error I got last week, this error must have been through Human Factors who came up with someting less intimidating but unfortunately also meaningless.

The writer forgot the cardinal rule of error messages: tell the user what do to about the error.

Unfriendly Lightroom

August 9, 2009

I was adding yet another keyword to my Lightroom catalog this evening and inadvertently typed one too many commas in the Synonym text entry box:

An extra comma

An extra comma

When I clicked on “Create” Lightroom gave me an error (labeled a Warning) that only a programmer could have created:

Lightroom Warning Non-Empty Name

What’s a photographer meant to make of that?

Of course I’m a Computer Scientist, so I know these things. The engineer who wrote the code to validate the new keyword parsed the Synonyms and found two consecutive delimiters (the CS word for a comma). That’s the error message she chose to display. She probably wrote compilers before she got the job with Adobe.

I’m surprised a Human Factors engineer didn’t catch it and ask her to do something more user friendly. For example, she could silently discard the extra comma. I can always edit the tag later. Or if that’s anathema then she could tell me what is wrong in Plain English and offer to a) correct the error by removing the extra comma or b) sending me back to do it myself.

At least she didn’t label the error dialog box “Syntax Error”.

It’s a tiny point, but I am waiting for pictures to upload to Picassa Web. While I was waiting I was adding some new car models to my keyword list in the hope I’ll see them some day in Thailand.

What’s right and wrong about Adobe’s Lightroom 2 — and how to improve it’s usability for photographers

July 14, 2009

What’s right and wrong about Adobe’s Lightroom 2 — and how to improve it’s usability for photographers.

Here’s a fairly long blog post analysing the Lightroom user interface. The author makes some of the same points I do but he goes further than me in some areas.

He’s right that the Lightroom modules can be a bit constricting – particularly the distinction between Library and Develop. For example I find myself flipping back and forth frequently as I like to crop my pictures while I am adding keywords.

He identified the “Quick Develop” panel in Library as evidence that Adobe knew that the Library / Develop distinction is not a good one. I tend to agree: I’d love to hear the reasoning behind the inclusion of Quick Develop. I have removed it fr0m my right-hand panel it Lightroom because I never use it.

On the other hand I am not so annoyed by the Library / Develop switch. It is but a keystoke to swap back and forth and on a fast machine with ample memory the switch is almost imperceptable.

As user interfaces go it does not vex me nearly as much as the Microsoft Office 2007 “ribbon”.

He also makes a good point that sometimes Lightroom seems to want to be “not Photoshop” and does things a different way just to be different. I think that “not Photoshop” tend got started in Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom is in the ACR camp.Again I’d be interested to learn the internal politics behind the decisions. I am sure it would remind me of my time at HP.

One example of an apparently arbitrary difference between Photoshop and Lightroom is the way the Crop tool works. In Photoshop you move the cropping frame “over” the picture. In ACR and Lightroom you move the picture “under” the frame.

I find the latter the easiest to use and think it is an improvement on the “over” model. So when I edit in Photoshop I am always doing cropping “backwards” and grumbling at the lost seconds in my workflow productivity(!).

I wonder if in the long term – say Lightroom 8 or 10 – it will have subsumed all the photography related functions of Photoshop and I will never need to switch?

Image Selection in the Lightroom Flimstrip

July 12, 2009
Click to see a larger image

Click to see a larger image

You can have Lightroom show a Flimstrip along the bottom of your screen in every module. It shows the Selected picture or pictures and the singular Active picture.

My expectation is that it works just like selections in Grid view. But it doesn’t exactly.

I do most of my detailed keywording and setting other metadata in Loupe view in the Develop module. Many times I see that I want to apply the same keywords, title or caption to several pictures.

In Grid view if I select multiple pictures and change the metadata for the Active picture it applies to the entire selection. Great! But if I select multiple pictures in the Filmstrip in Loupe view Lightroom applies the changes I make only to the single picture shown – the Active picture.

I am sure the Lightroom team had many meetings about this and concluded that was not a desirable behaviour. I guess the thought is that Loupe View is of a single picture so a side effect is not welcome.

But it is more work to return to Grid view to make multiple updates. I think that makes more sense overall. I think they should educate users that the Filmstrip acts exactly like Grid View.

They could always make it a user configurable option.

Back in the HP NewWave days I found these user interface discussions esoteric and boring. Now I see how important they are.

Image Selection in Lightroom Grid View

July 12, 2009

One thing I find a bit confusing about Lightroom is that it has an extra concept in the area of image selection in Grid View. Adobe calls it the Active Image.

Users familiar with simple tools like Windows Explorer are used to the concept that a file is either selected or not. Lightroom’s Active Image is a third state.

I think they needed it to handle synchronization of settings and metadata. You need to be able to tell Lightroom which image is the source for the synchronization. So the rule is that the synchronization is applied from the Active Image to the remainder of the Selected Images.

Of course the corollary is that whle any number of images can be selected only one can be Active. In the trivial case of one image it is both Selected and Active.

Lightroom Selection in Grid View

Lightroom Selection in Grid View

It gets interesting when you consider how the Active Image changes when the user does things in the Lightroom User Interface. Clicking with the mouse within a set of Selected Images changes the Active Image but keeps the selection intact.

This is different from the behaviour of the superficially similar Thumbnail View in Windows Explorer. In Explorer clicking with the mouse means that only the image you clicked on is selected.

I don’t know how a Mac or Windows Vista behave – I only have my Windows XP PC. One important consideration for Adobe must have been consistency between OS platforms.

The corner case of this selection process is when every image in a folder is selected. Clicking with the mouse does not allow me to deselect all images apart from the one I clicked on. How do I cancel the selection?

I have had trouble with this when I am working quickly. I commonly select a range of images to add keywords. That’s great – any keyword or other metadata changes I make are reflected in all the selected images. (ACDSee makes you go to separate metadata editor to affect multiple images – crazy!)

But often I click on one image wanting to select it alone in order to change its Rating. Wrong! I only changed the Active Image, the selection is the same and the Rating is applied to the entire selection. Not what I wanted at all.

Adobe had to introduce a keyboard shortcut “Select Only Active Photo” (Ctrl+Shift+D) to get around this. It cancels the entire selection apart from the Active Image.

The keyboard arrow keys behave differently. I thought that’d act just like the mouse – changing the Active Image within the set of selected images. But no, if I have a set of images selected the arrow keys cancel the selection and select / make active the next image in the direction of the arrow key pressed. That behaviour is  similar to Windows Explorer (XP).

I am sure users are confused when software sometimes works like they have come to expect and at other times it deviates. There’s a reason for it but it may be subtle.

Many years ago I worked on one of the first products that addressed some of these issues: HP NewWave. The user interface team battled with questions like this for months – trying to make a set of rules that applied to every application. It was hard: Pete Showman, where are you now?

This Lightroom dialog box

Lightroom Selection Ambiguity

shows how the Lightroom team realized that the Active / Selected concept can be confusing. I wanted to change the Metadata Preset I used when I imported some photos to reflect a different location. I selected the range I wanted to change and chose a different preset in the Metadata panel.

Lightroom wanted to be sure I knew what I was doing: the default behaviour is to apply the preset to the entire selection but that would destroy any changes I made to the metadata of individual images.

I think the “Don’t show again” option is confusing. If I check it, what will Lightroom do next time? It assumes I understand the model, which isn’t proven. I would add a line to the dialog box indicating what Lightroom will do next time without confimation.

This is all good stuff if you are into the minutae of user interface design. For me it is interesting because it recalls a previous life and also because it provides clues into what went on behind the scenes at Adobe when they were designing and user testing Lightroom.

I bet they had a camp that agrued against showing such dialogs at all: “Lightroom is a professional tool – don’t use it if you don’t know what you are doing” versus the touchy-feely, social science educated human factors folks who believed that users must be protected from unintended actions. “Don’t show again” was the compromise.

Lightroom User Interface Annoyance

July 7, 2009

Most of the time I am happy with the Lightroom u.i. the designers obviously took a lot of trouble to study the way photographers work. They have tried to make it logical and have good performance.

The thing that annoys me the most is the way the folder-tree and keyword-tree views behave.

In both cases the branches of the tree open seemingly at random. For example if I add a new keyword to a hierarchy most (but not all) of the tree opens and the panel scrolls upwards.

The images below show before and after views when I added the keyword Taurus to the hierarchy.


Lightroom Adding Keyword 1


Lightroom Adding Keyword 3

When I scroll through the keyword list I find that almost every branch has expanded to its full depth.

I wonder if I am hitting an edge case as my keyword hierarchy is very complex.

So the Taurus I added is:


But the folder tree shows the same strange behaviours and I don’t have a very deep or complex folder hierarchy.

It feels like someone has gone running through my house opening all the doors and windows. It’s easy to close things, but I wish Lightroom would not bother. Maybe it thinks it is trying to be helpful.