In the way, way, way back, before Mac OS X came in 2001 and changed the Mac forever, most Mac users came up with a filing system at the root of their startup volume, extended that to any external or removable storage, and called it a day. The Finder was a bit more, how shall we say it, spatially oriented in those days, and folks were just as likely to group files visually near each other as they were to place files in folders by task, project, context, what have you. The root of the startup volume was as fair game as any other location, and the Desktop folder was also a broad, easily hit target. Some users even kept documents in the same folder as the application that created them. Then, the Documents folder arrived.
While Mac OS 8 ditched many of the technology goals Apple had promised for years, it took a host of Mac features to the next level – and the Finder was no exception. It brought spring-loaded folders, popup windows, per-folder view options, to name a few – and also big changes to the default folders at the root of every startup volume. One of those was the new Documents folder, a big hint, along with Mac OS 8.5’s Sherlock, that how the Mac helped you keep up with all of your files was about to leap to the next level. Apple’s intention was for users to store all of their documents in the Documents folder, organized however they liked, to keep files off the Desktop and out of application folders, where they were all too often lost during an uninstallation or accidentally “cleaned up”, and in position for advances in search technology that would make finding your data a whole lot easier.
Set the way forward machine ahead about 20 years or so. We’ve seen a lot of incremental improvements but each user account on today’s macOS still has a Documents folder and the goals are still the same: to make it easy for you to find your documents when you need them and protect those documents from mishaps. iCloud Drive even includes a feature to synchronize your Desktop & Documents folders across devices, so you know Apple’s still pushing this Documents folder thing!