Scrivener User Interface is requiring lots of memorizing

I’m taking a course from Gwen Hernandez on using Scrivener, and I sent her a long email about the interface. She suggested posting it here, so here goes. In my next message, I will post an elaboration/amendments.

It appears, by the way, that suggestions of simplifying the Scrivener UI may be controversial. I’m not suggesting simplifying what it does; I am suggesting making the methods for doing analogous things more consistent, and therefore easier to learn.

I’m having trouble remembering “where to click, for what.” Can you help?
As far as I can tell, a lot of the choices are quite arbitrary and require pure memorization. For example, in this lesson you write:

I cannot think of a logical reason why clicking on the icon should bring up 3 very different choices like:
Reveal in Binder
Take Snapshot
Lock in Place

These 3 choices are very different from each other, and don’t have much association with the icon, or the location of the icon to the left of the file’s name, that I can see. There are many similar examples.

When we Lock in Place the Inspector, a completely different method is used: clicking on a lock icon, at the bottom of the inspector window, versus clicking on a file type icon (with pulldown menu), at the top of the relevant window. There is plenty of space in either the header or (better) footer of the document window to put a lock icon, which would make the document window and inspector window more consistent about how to lock them.

Are there underlying principles in the UI design that I am missing? If so, can you point them out as we go along? Or (which seems more likely) did the developer just throw the choices of where to click, for what, together rather arbitrarily? I realize you can’t change his choices, but perhaps you can explain them, and make them easier to remember.
Some kind of clever cheat sheet might also be nice. For example:
To lock a window, so that changing the selection in the binder does not alter what the window shows:
If it’s an editor window, click on the icon at the top left of the window
It it’s the inspector window, click on the lock icon at the bottom right of the window.

The functions that are available in the header bar icon menu are a collection of features that are used commonly, and thus are meant to be a convenience—to make using the program easier as you put. With the exception of the Path function, everything in here can be found elsewhere in the main menu, and a lot of these things have keyboard shortcuts as well. For example Reveal in Binder can be triggered at any time with Opt-Cmd-R. Taking a snapshot is a simple Cmd-5. Whether that is something that comes more natural to you than menus is a personal thing.

So yes, they are a bit disparate. The goal here isn’t to have a bunch of related features, that would be an artificial limitation that wouldn’t really serve to benefit the goal: making some common tasks easier to get at so you don’t have to dig through hierarchical menus (or memorise keyboard shortcuts) to trigger them.

Think of it a bit like a contextual menu, when right-clicking on an item in the Binder, for example. You’ll see things like duplicating the current item right alongside setting its “Label”. These aren’t meant to be related save for the loose goal of giving you some common functions at your fingertips, whatever they may be, so long as they contextual relate to manipulating a Binder item.

Mainly because that would be confusing. Most people would look at that and think it locks the item from being edited—and there is actually no feature for doing that. If you intuitively thought that was what it did, clicked it, and saw the header turn red, you might think it worked the way you thought—until you clicked in the Binder and nothing happened, or you accidentally deleted a paragraph and thought the lock feature was broken! That would be pretty confusing. “Lock in Place” on the other hand, does not in any way convey that the editor text will be locked.

I do see your point, to be clear, I’m just explaining why “Lock in Place” does not have a prominent icon like that. Having a small little padlock in the corner of the Inspector does not present that same confusion—and honestly I don’t think many people even notice it is there, and even fewer ever have need of such a thing.

At any rate, to speak more broadly of simplification, you are absolutely right that making things easier from a UI standpoint does not necessarily mean “dumbing things down” from a feature standpoint. One of the things we’ve been focussing on internally is just that kind of UI streamlining. I can’t really go into the details of that, because it’s all still a work in progress and for some point in the indeterminate future—but just know that (a) we definitely do deliberate, to the point of being anal retentive, over every little detail of the program. Nothing is just arbitrary. You might not agree with it, but this isn’t just a matter of throwing buttons wherever because there is a blank space to put it. And (b) this program is a consistently evolving tool. Feedback like yours helps in that evolution, so bring it on. :slight_smile:

Thanks for the fast response.
I hear you and am glad you are thinking about this. I guess your hypothesis is that after a while, the existing interface is easy to use because things are grouped where the user would like them. My hypothesis is that this is a good goal, but it could be even easier to use, especially for newcomers. Why not put a little lock icon up on the header bar? A tool-tip could be used to show that this will “lock in place.” Similarly, when locking the inspector, why not turn something to a reddish color, as a visual cue?

I should return this this in 3 months, when I’m much more familiar with the interface, and can give a more coherent analysis. My “sense” is that everything I’m learning in the interface is different from everything else, but after a while perhaps patterns will become clearer. Things like the editable tool bar certainly help a lot. It may also become clear that there are “only 10 things important I need to memorize,” in which case the problem goes away after I’ve used the program for a few weeks. I’m trying to learn Scrivener and Bookends at the same time, which may be adding to my confusion.

In any case, thanks for putting in all this functionality! I’m just scratching the surface of how to take advantage of it.

The problem is – as with any complex, feature-rich program – that “easy for newcomers” may not be easy for experienced users.

There’s a saying in programming circles: make a system that any fool can use, and only a fool will want to use it. While we certainly want to make Scrivener as accessible as possible, any program that does what it does will have a learning curve.

This is why I often encourage new users to just start writing as quickly as possible, and dive back into the manual once you have specific tasks that you want to accomplish. Until you actually want to write a script, you can ignore the scriptwriting features. If you write primarily blog posts and feature articles, you probably don’t yet need to worry about tables of contents. And so forth.


My problem isn’t even the user unfriendly interface - although it is not hard to see how with very little effort it could be made better - but the manual. It isn’t searchable and there is no index! Tell me how I look up the section dealing with keywords. A minor issue is the spell checker (miserable compared to Word’s) - it can’t recognise that Francoise needs an accent under the “C”, and many misspells, that Word can suggest answers for, it knows are misspells, but has nothing to offer. The last problem is that it seems to assume one is going to use keyboard shortcuts. Keyboard shortcuts! On A Mac! In 2014!

i am very tempted to give up altogether, because the benefits are slight in proportion to the sheer difficulty of using the system. I feel I’m fighting it all the time. And if I screw up by using the wrong command there is no easy way of going back one step.

The PDF manual is searchable. It has an extensive ToC. Search or the ToC will tell you where to find the section dealing with keywords.

Scrivener uses the OS X spellchecker. If you have suggestions for changes, you can contact Apple.

Francoise is possible without the cedilla. If you want OS X to suggest French spellings, change the dictionary language and it will suggest Françoise for you.

Keyboard shortcuts are very useful. You don’t use them. I expect most people do. I think most writers don’t want to take their hands off their keyboards, and Scrivener is designed for writers…unlike Word, which is designed for office workers completing clerical tasks.

Scrivener is an amazing piece of software. I know a couple of people who found that it didn’t suit their needs.* The free trial period gives people plenty of time to try before they buy.

Personally, I think Scrivener is very easy to use and intuitive, and very well supported by the developers and users of this forum.

  • I know far more people who have given up on Word than who have given up on Scrivener.

As far as I remember, Mac apps have always been shortcut-heavy. I remember having surprised a friend (some twenty years ago), who was a PC fanatic convinced that you had to use the mouse for everything on the Mac, showing how I could do everything without leaving the keyboard. Only, Mac shortcuts were shorter and easier to remember.

I suspect that PC users, accustomed to MsWord, are more prone to use the mouse to click one of the several icons than Mac users. The recent version of Sibelius, a note writing app, forced Mac users to rely on the ribbon, and shortcuts became a secondary way of using the various commands. No Mac user was happy, as far as I know.

As for searching the manual, I just tried, and searching the PDF file in Apple Preview worked fine. I have used it several times before.

But yes, the Mac’s spelling checker really stinks.


You compose music?

Briar Kit, yup. At the same slow pace as I write narrative.


Any of your work available online to listen to?

Given just how much effort goes into Scrivener on a daily basis, I would love to know how it could be made better with “very little effort”, since I’m obviously wasting my life! Would you like a job? :slight_smile:


As with writing, the real work is in coming up with ideas that are focused on one person’s perspective, not in the execution of those ideas. :unamused:

Yes shortcuts, and I hope scrivener is keeping focused on shortcuts in future. I don’t use a keyboard and most of the time even not the mouse or something similar. I use the speech recognition software Dragon Dictate which allows me to dictate and navigate in my computer almost with no hands. To be honest: this program is far from being perfect yet, but if you know how to handle it, you can work with it and scrivener together very well. The great thing about Dragon Dictate is, that you are able to create your own voice commands for every application. There are various possibilities to do this, one of the easiest ways is with shortcuts. So for every shortcut an application offers I can create a voice command that executes that shortcut, and I can do this in a few seconds. Just think of it, how great it is, if you have such commands for the 20 most used actions in scrivener: just say inspector to see the inspector, just say binder to see the binder, just say it again and they disappear, say synopsis, comments, footnotes, full-screen, search and so on and so on and there you are! Not to mention how great it is, to open your existing projects just by saying the name!
You can create these commands with menu elements, AppleScript’s, Automator workflows and a few other possibilities, but shortcuts are the easiest way! So please keep an eye on shortcuts in future, not only because of this reason I explained here, but also because as someone wrote in this thread, scrivener is a writing software and writers have their hands on their keyboards – as long as they not use the speech recognition software :slight_smile:
So let me be a little bit ironic at the end:
A keyboard! On a Mac! In 2014!

The irony is that, in my experience, Mac users are very keen on keyboard shortcuts. When I first started developing and testing Scrivener, I got a lot of feedback asking for extensive keyboard shortcuts, and over the years I’ve had plenty of requests to ensure that menu item names are unique so that users are able to assign keyboard shortcuts to them via the system preferences. Keyboard shortcuts are fundamental to power users and even to regular users who will learn the shortcuts for their most commonly-used feature. Although buttons are necessary, for me it would be a paint to click on a button every time you wanted to add a new document (Cmd-N) or folder (Opt-Cmd-N), group a bunch of files (Opt-Cmd-G), duplicate them (Cmd-D), split up a document (Cmd-K), move documents quickly (Ctrl-Cmd-arrow keys), hide or show the binder (Opt-Cmd-B) or Inspector (Opt-Cmd-I) and so on - let alone do things like cut, copy and paste. We’ve worked hard to try to ensure that the easiest keyboard shortcuts are assigned to the most common commands, but of course, on a Mac you can reassign keyboard shortcuts (and create your own) using the System Preferences if you need to, too.

That said, Scrivener doesn’t “assume” users use keyboard shortcuts, so I don’t understand that comment. As in any modern Mac app, keyboard shortcuts are available for those that use them, as an alternative, faster way of invoking menu commands.

As for the spell-checker, that is Apple’s system spell-checker used in Pages and across the Mac (Word provides its own, but then I daresay Microsoft has more resources available for such things than we do).

If I could offer just one piece of advice for people learning Scrivener, or any Mac application, it would be to get familiar with the Help->Search menu item. Need to split an imported document into smaller pieces? Help->Search “split” will show you a number of options, and down-arrowing to those options will show you the menu item’s location and any associated keyboard shortcuts that exist. Jot that shortcut down on a sticky and make use of it for 10 minutes as you split up your document, then toss the note and forget it.

Like knowing how to use an internet search engine, figuring out how to effectively search through the menu (and the PDF manual, for that matter) is far more valuable than trying to memorize stuff that may change with the next major upgrade, and which you may never find a use for anyway. Being generally familiar with what Scrivener can do by taking Gwen’s course, or even just running through the Interactive Tutorial project (treating it as a guided tour rather than a course you’ll be graded on) will give you a huge leg up without the effort of committing the whole interface to memory. And if all else fails, a focused “I want to accomplish X with Scriv. Suggestions?” post on these forums will often open up the possibilities and give you new insight into the writer’s tool chest called Scrivener.

Such a rich and powerful tool as Scrivener will inevitably be complex. A difficult challenge for a newb, which I was earlier this year.

Also as regards logical locations of function, my own personal take on this is that there are only so many places that functions can be placed, physically. And as an app grows, sometimes a little illogic creeps in.

It is impossible for most people to launch at it and learn all of the functions and how to use them. It’s not not normal for most people.

learning by doing is by far the most effective way. of course at the beginning that means stopping and starting a lot. But it is imho the only way.

In addition Scrivener is created to facilitate such a wide range of writing styles and types that some functions will never be used by some/many writers.

I would advise:

a) Watch ALL of the videos on the web site and on Youtube (do a search for scrivener)
b) Go through the interactive tutorial and give the manual a miss. I’m two books and 10 months in and I still hate it.
c) START using it.
d) learn to do good searches of the Mac section of the Forum for previous answers to questions.
e) Just ask.

It is frustrating at the start - but learning by doing will be very effective very quickly.