library viewYesterday, two users separately asked for folders in Weekend Read.

It’s something we’re considering, but it’s a significant UI challenge, so I thought I’d talk through some of the issues in blog form.

In Weekend Read, one of the main views is called the Library. Here you see a list of all the scripts and other files you’ve imported.

These files are “inside” Weekend Read on your iPhone, both conceptually and programmatically. That means that if you’re offline, the files are still there. If you modify the original file in Dropbox, the version in Weekend Read is unchanged. If you delete the app, you’ve deleted these files. Most users seem to intuitively understand this setup.

The challenge comes when a user wants to keep 10, 20 or 50 scripts in his Library. We offer the ability to sort the list (Recent or A-Z), but there’s no way to keep the Library organized. It can be hard to find what you want.

Enter folders

On the desktop, folders have been a useful way to group and label things, so it’s natural to think of them for iOS.

For Weekend Read, a user might have a To Read folder and an Archive folder. Or she might have all the scripts of a certain show in one folder. An actor might keep audition sides separate from other scripts.

On the desktop, you drag-and-drop a file into a folder. Unfortunately, that behavior doesn’t have a great parallel in iOS. Tapping-and-holding on a scrolling list might mean you just want to scroll it.

iA WriteriA Writer pulls it off pretty well, though. Tap-and-hold sucks the icon up from its slot in the list view. You can then drag it to an existing folder, or create a new folder by dropping it on another file. (Much like how app folders are made on the home screen in iOS.) To get a file out of a folder, you drag it to a button where the back arrow would be.

The more common solution you see in iOS is using Select to choose items from the list view, then offering the choice of moving them into a folder (or making a new one). This follows the tradition of Photos, and feels like the Apple Way. GoodReader and Byword both do it this way.

(Sidebar: Like Rene Ritchie, I wish Apple would follow the path of Photos and create something like Files.app to serve as a repository. It would greatly simplify interoperability between Weekend Read and apps that create Fountain files.)

Once you have files in folders, you have to figure out the right way to navigate through them. On the iPhone, we’ve come to accept that tapping on a folder moves you one screen to the right, where we show you the contents of that folder.

For Weekend Read, that mostly makes sense, but we’d have to put a back arrow where we current have the + to add a file. Not awful, but logically it might be nice to hit that plus and mean, import a file into this folder.

Further decisions:

  • Does deleting a folder delete all the files inside it?
  • How do you rename a folder?
  • Can you nest folders?

The Single Folder Solution

At our meeting today, Nima wondered if we could get by with just one folder called Archive. This tracks well with how people use Gmail, and might be enough for many users.

Essentially, everything you see in your Library would be stuff you’re reading now. Stuff in your Archive would be out of sight — still on your phone, but not cluttering your view. That’s not unlike the experience with Kindle, where you can always download something you’ve deleted off the device. It’s organizing by getting rid of things.

From a UI perspective, we’d probably make Archive a choice next to Delete when you swipe right-to-left. (And in the Archive, an equivalent choice would move it back to the Library.)

Tagging

With folders, a file can only be in one place at a time. A script can be in the To Read folder or the Hannibal folder, but not both.

With tags, that script can be in both categories simultaneously. Evernote and Vesper both use tags extensively, and recent versions of Mac OS have encouraged tagging over folders.

In Weekend Read, we’d presumably allow users to tag files the same way we rename them, by tapping-and-holding on the file. One could also tag by Select-ing a group of files and applying the same tag to all of them.

Once tagged, we’d provide filtered views that only show matching files. (But how? Possibly by tapping on the Library title.)

There’s a lot to love about tagging, but in my heart of hearts, I just don’t see people embracing it. It feels like a power-user feature, and overkill for what we’re trying to do.

Search

Regardless of which — if any — of these options we choose, one thing we will look at adding is a search field. On both Mac and iOS, I’ve gotten increasingly comfortable with just searching for what I want rather than trying to find it.

As it stands now, I’m leaning towards the one-folder solution, but I’m eager to hear more feedback from users and other folks interested in UI. Weekend Read is free in the App Store. You can find me on Twitter @johnaugust.