A colleague introduced me recently to spatial design and how it was used in the classic mac finder. He also said it is what apple propagated for the iPad (but not the iPhone because the screen is too small).

Now I want to learn more. How would you explain spatial design? (Are there any good articles on this subject?) Is it a holy grail or are there other contrary methods out there?

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    Also, have you read the faq? Your question is at risk of being put on hold for being a shopping list question. You may want to edit it to ask a more specific question for which there can be an actual "correct" answer. Aug 3, 2013 at 20:13

2 Answers 2


The Classic Mac Finder was designed to look like a desktop (The desktop metaphor).

What used to be called GUIs (graphical User Interfaces) have a 'spatial' element - If you want to put a file in a folder - you drag the file onto the folder.

Apple used to call this principle 'Direct Manipulation'

Direct manipulation allows people to feel that they are directly controlling the objects represented by the computer. According to the principle of direct manipulation, an object on the screen remains visible while a user performs physical actions on the object. When the user performs operations on the object, the impact of those operations on the object is immediately visible. For example, a user can move a file by dragging an icon that represents it from one location to another or can position a cursor in a text field by directly clicking the location where the cursor should be placed.

  • and they used principles of spatial design and spatial memory. e.g. one window per folder, one size and position per window, etc.
    – john
    Aug 3, 2013 at 20:14

I think spatial design applies to 3 dimensional spaces. It relates to traditional architecture but is more abstract in that it can apply to virtual 3D spaces (like that of a video game) as well as physical spaces.

I doubt it had much impact on the original Mac finder, although the Mac finder did have spaces (windows) emerging from other windows, the 3rd dimension there was conceptually pretty simple. But I could be wrong here.

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