28 Things Everybody Should Know, Part XIII

Embrace tactile feedback as much as possible.

My favorite cell phone design was a monochrome clamshell with little in the way of frilly add-ons. Besides the nigh indestructible casing and small real estate it occupied in my pocket, I loved the distinction I could feel between each button without having to look at the keypad. If I knew a contact’s place in my address book, I could flip the phone open, push two buttons, and the phone dialed the appropriate number without the assistance of my eyes at any time. Even taking voice-triggered dialing into consideration, this remains the fastest I’ve ever seen a mobile phone dial a number.

The shrinking and slimming of phones has taken quite a toll on keypad designs, cutting back on the noticeable differentiation between individual keys, and the most extreme example of this, the full touchscreen phone, has been in high demand since the launch of the iPhone. Large touchscreens have a wide variety of uses, but one thing they fall short of providing is a keypad, which generally isn’t a problem since most of the time users select contacts from a list instead of using conventional dialing.

I’ve found that phone keypads manufactured after around 2002 have been ignoring the spacing between keys, and often, the tactile clicking that comes with pressing those keys, to accommodate smaller overall phone bodies. Some companies find creative ways around this lack of sensory feedback by adding a little of their own.

This phone features raised beads, almost like rhinestones, on each key, giving the user a sign as to the approximation of each button. Not only do the number keys have beads, but the navigation and phone option keys as well.

Most computer mice, have scroll wheels that provide a soft click for each time the mouse sends a signal to the computer. That way, users will have an understanding of how much they are telling the computer to scroll up and down. Many Microsoft mice don’t include this feature, and I have a friend who appreciates the lack of a clicking scroll, while the absence makes me somehow feel uneasy. My mouse, the Logitech MX Revolution, can switch between clicking and smooth scrolling for gliding through long documents and web pages, and after two years with the MX, I can’t imagine using anything else.

I used to play a lot of computer games in the days of DOS, and most of those games used the Ctrl and Alt keys due to their location on the keyboard. I love those keys, and have found that one reason is the gap between the two. (There are several important gaps in between certain keys that make navigation much easier for users, which I will discuss in a later post.) But with Windows 95 came a new key, one that fit neatly between Ctrl and Alt : the Start key.

So this is my keyboard today. I no longer play DOS games, but the modifier keys–Ctrl, Alt and Shift–are an absolute necessity when dealing with applications like Photoshop. (Furthermore, accidentally hitting the Start key activate the operating system’s Start menu and forces the focus off the current program.) So that gap I grew up with means a lot to me. The same goes for the other side of the Space bar, where I’ve removed the Start key and the Context Menu key.

Most users appreciate a level of feeling to their actions, something beyond simply seeing and sometimes hearing what they’re doing. The more senses an activity offers response to, the more viscerally connected a user will feel to the activity, and possibly, every factor involved in the process: equipment, network, manufacturer and service provider, all of which should show an interest in how an activity responds to the user.

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