I have a question about dialog boxes on my computer. This is something I mentioned last night, and I’d appreciate some help.
Below is a picture of a well-assembled dialog box. UI folks say that dialog box options should be verbs, not nouns, but that’s not important here. (ie, you should have options “Don’t save” and “Save” for the question “Save this document?” instead of the buttons “OK” and “Cancel.”) I’m going to talk about why it’s well-assembled, but first:
Mac trivia! While the Mac (actually, the Lisa, but the Lisa informed the Mac) was being designed, the “OK” button did used to be an action: it used to be labeled “Do It.” But the space between the two words was too small, and the users read the button label as “dolt” and got kind of offended and wouldn’t push it. True fact!
Back to that dialog box…
If you ask someone a question, you usually give the positive answer first: Yes, No; OK, Cancel. But in this case, the box is the other way round (Cancel, OK). Why is this good? It’s good because of the keyboard shortcuts. Here’s my keyboard:
The keyboard shortcut for “OK” is the Return key, and that’s on the right of my keyboard, which matches the position of the button on the dialog boxes. The shortcut for “Cancel” is the Escape key, and that’s on the left, also matching the button position.
At this point, you’re thinking “so what?” but on my flight to a conference last week, I encountered the following interface–and apologies for the photo quality, as it’s of a small, dim screen situated on the seatback infront of me:
I’m trying to exit a game called “Magma Zone” and the game is giving me a confirmation dialog. The options are the way round we use in speech, “Yes” then “No.” However, the button for “Yes” is on the right of the control pad – which you can see in the bottom half of the picture (I’m holding it up to the screen) – and the button for “No” is on the left. The dialog box, which you see, and the control pad, which you act on, have the buttons in opposing directions.
When you’re half asleep on a plane, in a funny kind of state anyway, this interface is catastrophic. Even when I knew what was happening, when I’d already taken a photo and examined the remote and so on, even when I knew all that, it took me a good few tries to leave the game.
Good for Magma Zone, not so good for me. (The problem, or benefit, of Mind Hacks is that you zero in on these fractional second frustrations, and start watching yourself to see when it happens. It’s great, actually, as a designer to be able to examine UIs with this perspective.)
My question: What’s going on that makes this so hard? I have a number of ideas, and a member of the audience at Foyles suggested another really good one last night, but I’m going to hold back on those for a bit. Suggestions please! (And feel free to speculate and throw ideas out there, we’ll figure it out.)