Quasimode for Text Selection

A short design exploration of how stacked cards could work within iA writer.

Picture this situation:

You select some text, tap Command X (cut), and before hitting Command V (paste) somewhere else, your attention moves to a different part of the document. Before paste'ing your precious text your eye catches another juicy sentence. You decide to cut this piece of text as well. With the usual convention, the first text you selected vanishes at your new keystroke, and your new selection is now saved and ready to be paste'ed. This happens whether the text was a few characters or three quarters of the essay you were writing. There is nothing in the interface that lets you know that text has been deleted.

This probably sounds familiar to a lot of people who work with text on a computer.

"A humane interface never puts your work at risk. The interface should require you to explicitly delete text if you want to delete text and not delete it as a side effect of another action." This is one of the many gems in the famous book 'The Humane Interface' by Jeff Raskin. The book stems from 2000, but the topics are still very relevant in modern day operating systems.

The Humane Interface by Jef Raskin

My immediate thought was to use use text drag-and-drop instead of cut and paste. Raskin however, disagrees: "I would not design an interface with drag-and-drop in text" Scrolling with something selected is painful and you lose the ability to create a new selection overlapping the current selection.

Enter the quasimode

So instead, a separate quasimode is the solution for this selection and dragging problem. Quasimodes are modes that are kept in place only through some constant action on the part of the user.

Instead of cut+paste or trying to drag text around, you could simply move selected text to the left side of the application.

One application that already implements such a 'quasimode' is the thinking app Muse.

Muse calls it "The Inbox", a persistent stack of cards on the left edge of the app where added cards appear; stays with you as you navigate.

Quasimode in Muse App

Quasimode for selection within iA Writer

This design pattern might also be interesting for other apps. Particular within writing apps this could be a useful concept. I explored how this would work in the writing tool iA Writer.

Whenever you want to move a text selection you would simply drag your selection to the left side of your screen. Here it would wait gently to be used in a different part of the text.

This enables you to see how the text 'looks' without a piece of the text, all without accidentally losing it.

Dragging text to the side

Selections could even 'stack' so cut text doesn't accidentally gets deleted (A humane interface never puts your work at risk). An inbox like this could also be used for writing prompts that have no place in the text yet.  

This enables to have both selection and drag-and-drop without cognitive interference.

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