February 22, 2012

Does iOS/iPhone todo app design really matter in productivity?

I’ve been thinking about Clear and how much appearance and design might affect productivity. Is Clear more than just an app that is cool to look at and play with? How many of us will be using it in 3 months? Here are some factors related to design that might be considered.

Tap Count

Some apps suffer from a high tap-count. I have previously logged the number of taps it takes to create a todo, for instance, and used it to compare several apps. Things, Reminders, Omnifocus and others can have a high tap-count if one is entering in more than just the task name. Clear forces a low tap-count by not allowing additional data entry and by truncating the task name field size. Taskpaper has a lower tap-count also because all addition task data is placed on the same line as the task name.

One hand or two?

Apps that allow one-handed navigation are more situation-adaptible and therefore faster. Sometimes one mostly is full or used for a task. Perhaps once must enter a quick todo when (gasp) driving. Clear is interesting in that some of its fuctions must be done with two hands. Other apps such as Things, Reminders, Omnifocus, and Taskpaper can be used mostly one-handed. Siri, of course, is another wrinkle on this.

Data compartmentalization

I really look dimly on designs that have extensive areas that must be tapped into and out of. Enter the task name on one page, exit and go to a page to enter the due date, exit and enter a page to enter the context, etc, is a painful process. Clear has only three levels and only one level for the task data. A Taskpaper todo file has one level, period. Things, Reminders and Omnifocus have data stuffed in all kinds of various and sundry places.

A pleasure to use

Some have commented that Clear is fun to use and therefore they will be more productive. I think there might be some truth to this but have not looked at it objectively. For me, Clear is fun to use until I need to search, tag, sync, etc.

Screen content balance

I like Taskpaper’s ability to change font size. I use a 13pt Helvetica font which allows a nice high-level view of 12-15 tasks. Clear gives me the feeling of too little presented at once. It maxes out at 8 tasks at a time. Things used to annoy me because I felt like I saw too few tasks at once. On the other hand, sometimes Taskpaper can be intimidating because I can see the entire list easily and it seems overwhelming.

Task name truncation

Things truncates the task name in the master list. Taskpaper does word wrapping. Clear doesn’t truncate, it just limits the task field to one line.

Is it cool?

I like to use apps I think are cool. Clear is cool. I think the same of Taskpaper - especially with a black background and white lettering.


In thinking about this, I think there will be users that will get more done with Clear because it is gesture-based, innovative and cool. However, for many of us that want tags, search, contexts, sync across devices, scripting on the Mac, etc, Clear falls short and is just a nice looking veneer over a simple list. I do admire the design of Clear and commend the Devs/Designers on a fine app.

  • design
  • simplicity
  • iPhone
  • productivity

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