Palettes versus sidebars

by Giles Turnbull

A developer's lot is not always an easy one. Take, for example, making a choice between putting an application's data information and controls in palettes (like BBEdit does) or in a sidebar (like Mail does).

After all, some people prefer palettes. Some prefer sidebars, or drawers. You can't please all of the people all of the time, so which ones do you choose?

Gus Mueller faced this tricky decision with the recent release of VoodooPad 3. It was comment worthy for many reasons, most of them the impressive collection of features that Gus had taken the trouble to add to an already feature-packed application.


CM Harrington
2006-07-26 14:47:00
I have to say, I like the sidebar better than the palette approach. According to the HIG, the sidebar is a better place for such things, and inspector-like things should be saved for palettes. However, I still don't like the interface, as all the buttons on the toolbar look alike. They're all blue and round, so you can't tell them apart (easily).
2006-07-26 14:54:47
I think for the most part, for apps that are essentially single-window (e.g. NetNewsWire, Mail), I prefer a drawer/sidebar, but for multi window apps (e.g. OmniGraffle, Interface Builder) I prefer palettes. I guess that's because in a multi window app, it's handy to have the flexibility to move the palettes around to accomodate the windows, plus you don't have a redundant copy of the drawer/sidebar on each window, but in a single window app, having just one big honking window with a drawer attached is more convenient. But I'm sure there are exceptions even in my own usage.

Since VoodooPad now has tabs, I can see how having all the stuff in a sidebar would be nice, since that lets you keep everything in one window.

Gus Mueller
2006-07-26 15:04:22
The problem with the sidebar in VP is that it just got HUGE. Some of my documents have over 6k pages in it. That's a looong list, and makes getting to another group list (like the backlinks or categories) in the sidebar a problem. Now, most people don't have 6k documents, but it's not uncommon to have multiple 100's of pages in a document, and the same problem is there.

(Also- the HTML Tools plugin had already supported textile and markdown- it just wans't a ubin before :))

2006-07-26 15:16:28
I still think the way InDesign handles things is ideal. palettes that doc to the edges of the screen and slide out when you click them. it's a best of both worlds solution.
2006-07-26 15:48:19
My understanding is that one can easily find usability pros and cons for and against both options, so I guess the issue is bound to be debated at a personal prefs. level...

Having said that I'd like to vote for drawers... another floating window is specially confusing in this app. where you more often than not find yourself with quite a few windows open... at least for me...

Would it be too complicated a prefs option to choose between both ways of presenting the window?

(I recall a simple enough app. as icomic as having that option dealing with showing a calendar as well as the comic strips...)

2006-07-27 04:30:51
I think the question belongs more to usability then to personal wishes. What do we have: We have Sidebars, Drawers and Palettes. How uses Apple them?
1. Sidebars are a kind of outline view. ThIt show you the structure of your document and this structure is always shown. It shows your library in iTunes and iPhoto, your Mailboxes in Mail and all your pages and Sheets in the iWork apps. Selecting an item from the sidebar changes content of your main view. Therefore a sidebar doesn't change if you change your content in mainview.
2. A drawer is a toggled sidebar. You can switch it on and off as you need. Thou a drawer don't have to contain information you need on and on. In Preview a drawer displays all the pages in your PDF, but you don't need it like the mailboxes in Mail, because you can switch between pages one by one with the arrow keys on your keyboard. The drawer also shows the result of a search, but how often do you search you documents?
3. A Palett is used for inspectors or a media browser - as seen in iWork. A Palette is an interface for manipulating information you need in every Page of your document. It freshes out, if you change a your page or your hole document in Pages (i.e. the content of your main view).
I think Apple's done a good job, replacing the drawer by a sidebar in Mail and also the combination of sidebars and palettes in Pages or Keynote is very well. As you can see all three concepts work fine with single window (Mail, iTunes) and muti-window (Keynote, Pages) apps.
2006-07-27 05:04:51
I tend towards the philosophy that a sidebar is appropriate when it's function applies only to the window it's attached to.

Imo sidebars are not useful for things like painting tools for example where it's more useful to have a single floating palette in a fixed position.

Trouble is many people use these UI widgets without really thinking about their real purpose. It's long been a gripe of mine that developers don't put high enough priority on designing the best UI possible for their apps. So often UI appears to be an afterthought, something the developer "had" to do rather than "wanted" to do to make their app stand out from the crowd ;)

Mike Abdullah
2006-07-27 08:37:19
Gus, listen to neuwalker :)

He/she has some very good points to make about UI design that I think a lot of independent developers tend to forget.

2006-07-27 13:57:35
Personally I prefer palettes, but that's specifically because I use a two-monitor setup where I put my document windows on one monitor and my palettes on the other. This way I have the maximum workspace possible and all my tools are out of the way while I'm working.