Labels, Colors, Yojimbo and OS X

An article by David Brooks on April 14, 2010


I had heard good things about Yojimbo, and I decided to give it a try. Sure enough, my sources were dead on and it turned out to be a great way to manage all my notes, images, and whatever else I had. But I decided to take it a step further and organize things a bit within Yojimbo… that’s where I ran into an issue of preference, usability and functionality.

Having a variety of things in my list I decided to label everything pertaining to design a blue color and all my articles would be orange. When I did that, however, it turned my list into a giant rainbow of colors. For me, it’s like making things bold… if everything is bold, nothing is bold anymore.

Labels in Yojimbo, fully spanning the app

So I did what any UX developer would do… I clicked on the “Provide Yojimbo Feedback” link in the menu.

My message was short, not wanting to sound frustrated, because I wasn’t. It basically said, “it would be nice if the labels didn’t span the entire row and instead could appear in a column for quick viewing.” I said that it was a personal preference and that it would be nice to have the ability to toggle it on and off. And I clicked send.

A bit later I received an email from them politely saying, “thanks for sending this to us, but we’re using the expected UI pattern that Apple uses elsewhere in OS X, specifically finder.” And he was absolutely correct, it was exactly what I should have expected.


And while I don’t fault Bare Bones for going that route, it’s a well established one no doubt, I wonder if a bit of context is at play.

I had always ignored labels at a OS level because, frankly, they seemed unnecessary. I have folders and I know where the folders are and to what they pertain. I don’t need color to indicate what’s going on because I have things like photography and design placed along similar content. To apply colored labels at an OS level would just leave me with large blocks of blue and red all over the place. To color-code individual items could work, but it seems easier to group those individual items within a folder. Besides, I can barely make enough time to keep my files organized, let alone color-coded.

Labeling within an application is probably different than at an OS level. In a case like Yojimbo I will probably have many different types of media next to each other. Things like article drafts will be sitting next to recipes, designs and photos. So for me, this is the ideal situation to use a little bit of color. But again, I don’t want it overwhelming and unusable. A quick mockup of what I had in mind looks something like this:

My concept, labels in Yojimbo not spanning the full width

The potential hang-up is that the labels may not stand out enough, that is the issue with having smaller labels. But, I think if you’re going to have a large percentage of your things labeled at any given time it could be a nice feature.


I bring this up not because it’s really bothering me that Yojimbo doesn’t do labeling the way I want. Yojimbo is completely usable without labeling anything, ever. (The issue now is not with Yojimbo but in the way OS X handles labeling to begin with.) I mention this for the conversation around user experience, expectation, and context. What do you think? Which way appeals to you and your workflow?

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About David Brooks

David Brooks is the owner of the small creative studio, Northward Compass, based out of Orlando, Florida. He writes electronic and ambient music as Light The Deep, and fantasy stories about a place called Elerien.

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