I recently installed Photoshop CC 2015. Coming from CS5, there's one UI change in particular that I find perplexing because it's such a step backwards for workflow and for usability.
In CS5, working with shape layers was basically the same as working with any other kind of layer with a vector mask. In CC, however, shape layers are now visually their own special 'thing' like smart objects. They have no indication of a vector mask and look like a raster layer with one small difference: a square icon in the corner of the thumbnail.
This UI change brings up two issues:
1. Inconsistent User Experience
It's assumed by the user that a shape layer is nothing more than a fill layer with a vector mask. This was visually communicated in CS5 with the vector mask thumbnail next to a colored icon indicating the vector mask being applied to the fill layer (and the colored icon indicating the color of the shape). In order to move or copy the vector mask from one layer to another, it was consistent across all layer types to click and drag the mask thumbnail to move or use Opt/Alt with the click and drag to copy.
Now that this has changed, an extra key (Command/Ctrl) is required in order to move or copy the hidden vector mask. This makes the interaction confusing because there is no discernible reason why the user must interact with these layers differently when they are functionally the same. This makes the interaction inconsistent.
Additionally, because shape layers function the same as other layers (i.e. with a vector mask) there's no discernible reason why there should also be a visual difference. Shape layers now look like raster layers but with one visual indicator that they are not: a small square icon in the corner of the thumbnail. This is visually inconsistent with how the layer functions.
The icon brings me to my next point.
2. Icons Cover Up Thumbnail Content
This is a problem that was also in CS5 with Smart Objects and was never addressed in subsequent versions of Photoshop. Icons that indicate special layer types cover up the thumbnail of the layer. In many cases it can cover a quarter or even a third of the thumbnail and for smaller, square layers, it covers the thumbnail completely.
These icons need to be placed outside the thumbnail or not at all. For Shape Layers in particular, separating the fill color for the shape and the shapes themselves gives more information when looking at a layer and allows the user to more consistently interact with layers.
One of the things about Vector Mask thumbnails that's useful is that they show all paths that are in the layer and how they construct the final output (add, subtract, etc). This new single thumbnail combines the output from the mask and the color information into a thumbnail that looks like a raster layer. This means small shapes don't show up so you can't tell what color it is or what paths contribute to the final shape.
This Shape Layer is blue. Can you tell? I can't.
The Problem: The way Shape Layers work in the layers panel currently is not as good as it used to be. The change after CS5 was not an improvement to the UI/UX.
The Solution: They should both visually look and work the same as they did in CS5.
Please refer to these other topics that have similar threads of thought that are relevant to this topic: