The Cognitive Need for OSX Finder Labels.


October 2013 brought sweeping changes to the features and financial models of many Apple software products. As Mavericks, the latest version of the Mac OS, moves the technology forward it presents many baffling changes that evoke like the proverbial “two steps backwards” phrase. For my day-to-day workflow the most disruptive change is the elimination of File Labels.

The new Finder Tags are great, but they are no substitute for the ability to quickly label a file name with a color. Having now lost the  ability to quickly “swipe a virtual highlighting pen across the name of the file,” I find it has much more of an impact on my daily computer use than I would have ever guessed it might.

Tags are great for sorting, searching and long-term organization, but Labels are a much better method for quick and sure visual identification, visual organization, and short-term flagging of files in lists.

But what about that tiny colored dot by the file names? Doesn’t that serve the same purpose? It does not. Here the cognitive problem the dots create:

labelsWith labels, one could quickly skim a list of file names and simultaneously see the color associated with each. One action, one thought.

With Tags, these two pieces of information are no longer in the same place, or within the same glance. With eyes focused on one, the other is in peripheral vision. As mentioned before, the dots are very small, and the distance between the name and the color dot varies depending on the width of the Finder column. This causes ones eyes to shift back and forth trying to connect these two bits of information. Trying to use Tags in the same way as Labels, one end up reading file names multiple times just to verify. I find that I no longer grab files with confidence that they are the one I marked earlier without several eye-shifting checks.

Labels eliminate reading, and often even thinking about, file management allowing one to better concentrate on the work they are doing in the first place.

Sure this all happens in milliseconds, but the latter takes longer, and it creates stress and doubt. Consider that one might perform this action thousands of times per day, what was once rather effortless becomes burdensome.

I’m not suggesting that Apple change or eliminate tags. I am just asking for Labels to come back, or for some other way to quickly highlight files. If you feel the same way, let Apple know on their OSX Feedback Page.

UPDATE: March 26, 2014

Problem solved for now. Tran Ky Nam Software’s utility XtraFinder adds several cool features to the OSX Finder. The free app was updated today with the option to show Finder Labels!

As president of Tracy Evans Productions, Inc. for over 18 years Tracy splits his time between being an animator, director, producer, stage magician, graphic designer, art director, programmer, editor, consultant, speaker and writer of third-person autobiographical blurbs.

10 Comments on "The Cognitive Need for OSX Finder Labels."

  1. Sue says:

    I too am very frustrated with the tiny, difficult to read tags. I want my labels back so I can find my files easily. I also want the “info” put back in ibooks so I can sort and rename and add covers to my books. Mavericks has some good features but a few of them are backward steps. I hope Apple takes note. There are a lot of disappointed consumers out there.

  2. david says:

    As a pro photographer, I have used coloured labels for years to identify folders with images that require retouching (purple) that are then changed to Red when done & then change to green when sent for printing. So at a glance, I can identify at what stage each job is at. The tiny coloured dots are difficult to see and will seriously slow down our work flow.

  3. John Lopez says:

    BINGO!!! Seems this is a HUGE request from many frustrated users. I was force to “UPGRADE” back to Mountain Lion just to ensure I can still work efficiently!

  4. Peggy W. says:

    The Apple forum discussion has nearly 19,000 plus views in favor of returning our virtual highlighter marker back to Mavericks. So many of us have sent feedback to Apple. For Apple to eliminate the color labels is akin to giving up the wheel because it is an old invention. Give me a break, Apple.

  5. Doug says:

    I have left many comments about this in Apple Discussions/Communities. I have also contacted Apple many times. Hopefully,they will listen to what users are saying.
    After installing Mavericks,I,too,felt that I had to reinstall Mountain Lion,which feels and looks like an ‘upgrade’.

  6. Harry says:

    You’re so right. I was really disappointed after realizing Mavericks got rid of file label colors. I’ve used these for years in animation projects that rely on using thousands of image files, and being able to quickly track them through revision stages, and split workloads with several people.

    One of OSX’s greatest strengths (IMO) was the ability to color-label files. I can’t understand why they would remove it. Tags should have just been an added feature, not a replacement.

    I’m using PathFinder for now, but it’s a bit to expensive to replace the Finder on every computer I use. So I’m forced to keep most of them at Mountain Lion until Apple (hopefully) comes to their senses.

    This is all part of them moving away from caring about content creators and people that use computers to do actual work, and catering more to content consumers. It’s sad Apple can’t seem to realize that catering to one group doesn’t have to mean tossing out the other.

  7. Norma Laskin says:


  8. david says:

    Hopefully Apple will pay attention to their users and reinstate the labels asap A very frustrating lack of thought on their part. Our whole system ran on coloured labels

  9. Debora says:

    My mac si running slow after I installed XtraFinder. Anyone else has this problem? I just want labels. Just labels. 🙁

    • Doug says:

      Hi Debora,
      I disliked Mavericks and Yosemite so much that I went back to Mountain Lion,which I am now still using. The loss of labels and the horrible inability to double left click a folder to open a new folder got me down so much. Prior to returning to Mountain Lion,I did use Xtra Finder and found no problems with it.

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