how much does an UI weigh?
22 Feb 2022
Last updated: 25 Jan 2024
one of the things that help me most in sticking with a tool is its weight. how much does an user interface weigh? that’s a weird question.
when talking about notes and to-do apps, there’s usually a recurring meme saying that the best ideas are always stored in your phone’s notes app. and what i love about memes it’s their ability to synthesize incredibly complex social behaviours in a couple of words or even an image.
if a meme has a mild rate of success (rts, likes, shares, whatever), means it resonates with all those people and thus, we can kinda accept is as truth.
and i believe this fact is true because of the weight UIs have.
a long time ago, i started using notion, before it was actually as mainstream as it is now. it was definitely not a small tool at that point, but still not very popular.
notion was a note taking app. it leveraged the power of markdown to some simple slash commands, so you could format your document rather professionally and easily without having to know markdown.
it featured a left pane with all your big, main notebooks under which you could add an arbitrary amount of pages, which can be thought of as actual notes. these pages could contain references to other pages recursively, so it could be very nice to organize very detailed and hierarchical information.
this is very good for documentation purposes, as app docs usually need this level of granularity. but it was not the best use case for just casual note taking.
it was at this point that i started to not use notion very much. what i felt is that no single thought or idea was worth enough to have its own page… let alone a whole notebook.
that is, the weight of my ideas was dwarfed by the weight of the container i wanted to put them in.
coming back to the phone’s notes app, we can see a big difference. we can create a single note to just keep track of the food we are going to order tonight, and delete it immediately. i can quickly create a small note with my song idea, my coding idea, my whatever idea.
because the idea is still small at this stage, i do not give it much weight, but the note that’s containing it weighs even less.
i believe notion pages weighted so much because they needed to be sorted first. they needed to have a very specific and well defined purpose. you had to have a very clear idea already.
the notes app, on the other hand, was much more accessible and welcoming in this regard, with the new note + button just right there.
i believe a huge part of this perceived weight comes from how the developers name these elements for the users. for example, the Arc browser makes use of several Spaces to manage a group of related tabs that you don’t want to mix with other spaces.
but the name Spaces can feel very big and heavy. they somehow felt this and very deliberately tell you how you can just create a space for a specific task and delete it later, in an attempt to reduce its weight.
that’s why naming things is important in order for us to have a clear understanding of how i should use the tool.
in the end, people will use the features in any piece of software however they feel like fits best for them. this feeling is usually not what developers have in mind, however. there’s usually big disparity between the two.
one example is again, arc’s CEO stating that people are not using the library (a feature in their browser) as much as they expected. those who do, use it in a very different way from what the initial purpose was. (i bring arc so much just because they’ve published tons of content on how they are approaching the development)