28 Things Everybody Should Know, Part XI

Avoid forcing users to click more than they really have to.

Mouse clicks demand very little strength. Children can learn to use a mouse at a very young age, and rarely does the pressing of the button cause much of a problem. More often, it’s securing the location of the cursor while the click takes place.

Despite what little effort a user must put into each click, it’s the more fine-tuned practice of positioning the cursor to prepare for the click that causes a bit more frustration. With many interfaces, users must center the cursor over a tiny cluster of pixels–and keep it there until the click is complete–to achieve the desired result. In some cases, shifting even one pixel in any direction between the downward and upward clicks will nullify the action, often with no visual indication that the click didn’t register, resulting in a user waiting for something to happen, until it’s realized that something went wrong. And many users, afflicted by memories of slowed and frozen computers due to multiple instances of a single program, will wait until they’re absolutely certain the computer didn’t catch a click before they try it a again.

There are a couple different shutdown menus used in different versions of Windows. An earlier dialog box, also used in Windows 98 and 2000 if I recall correctly, uses a dropdown box to give the user a list of shutdown and logoff options:

With a dropdown menu such as this, only the selected option is visible, so a user would have to click on the narrow box just to get a glimpse of the other possibilities. (There are dropdown menus which use rollovers to invoke the drop, but this isn’t one of them.)

After the first click, the user may then find and select the desired action, again zeroing in on a rather small area–13 pixels high–to make the appropriate selection. Keep in mind that nothing is happening with the rest of the screen–in fact, the rest of the screen fades to gray as this dialog box is open. At no other time in the entire Windows environment does this happen. All that space to offer a handful of options, and each one is limited to a hit area 13 pixels in height.

Later on, Microsoft divided the shutdown and logoff features into two different boxes, and revamped the design of each.

The newer option box features all three choices clearly visible at all times, and offers larger buttons with both English and iconographic hints for each option. It may have eliminated the need for only one extra click, but each click scratched from a procedure also removes the need to center the cursor over a small portion of the screen.

When Adobe first introduced Creative Suite, a more integrated approach to their design applications, I couldn’t get over a trivial but annoying new element to Photoshop’s Layers panel.

I the previous version, Photoshop 7, clicking once on the arrow next to the Opacity or Fill percentage dropped down a slider which, on the same click, could be adjusted until the user released the button. The two-click method–one to drop the slider down and one to position the arrow–worked just as well.

In the next three revisions of Photoshop, one click no longer did the job. The user had to click once to show the slider, then click again to move the arrow left and right. I don’t know of any other people this bothered, but somebody at Adobe had to program that functionality into the program, and must have consciously chosen not to allow a one-click opacity change. (There actually is another way to do it, by clicking and holding the word Opacity or Fill, not the numbers or arrow, which adjusts the percentage without a visible slider, but that’s not intuitive in the least–in fact, I hadn’t heard of the trick until somebody stumbled upon it on accident and passed the word onto me.)

Finally, with the release of Creative Suite 4, my gripe has been answered. Again, I don’t know if this bothered anyone other than myself, but until CS4, Adobe had chosen to diminish the functionality out of their Layers panel, which only slows the editing process. I’m glad they eventually decided to add that functionality back into their product.

Withholding a list of options from a user can serve many purposes: it clears up space on the screen, it avoids confusion by clearly displaying selected options, and it adds a dynamic element to a series of choices, something much more difficult to do on a conventional paper form. There are several ways to display these hidden objects when the need arises, and there isn’t one right way to go about it in every scenario.

It should be noted that the double controlled click explained above–where both clicks must click on a different point to perform a task–is different than the double click, which only requires one placement of the mouse. Double-clicking is no more taxing on the user than single click, which is why so many users click twice on accident when only one is needed.

Eliminating redundant mouse clicks is a small but important step in increasing user productivity, especially when operations that would require multiple clicks are performed over and over. Most users likely won’t consciously notice when a click is unnecessary, but many will notice the increase in performance when the problem is recognized and addressed. And hopefully a few will even thank you for it, or at least mention it in a blog post.

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