Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Dialog Boxes: Making simple things simple…

Keeping dialog boxes simple ...

"How much thought do you give to writing the text on dialog boxes when you’re designing?

It’s fairly common for these to be written by the developers as they’re being coded, from what I’ve seen. They certainly deserve a whole lot more attention than they generally receive.

Here’s a prime example.

Notice the text that has been bolded. It’s asking me a question ‘do you want to allow the new version to access the same keychain items (such as passwords) as the previous version?’.

Is it just me, or are the obvious answers to this question either Yes, or No. Yet this dialog box presents me with the options ‘Don’t Change’ or ‘Change All’. To which my immediate response is… Change What?! I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Let’s ignore the fact that, hypothetically, I have pretty much no idea of what a keychain item might be, the next line of text reassuringly tells me that whatever option I end up guessing at is permanent and affects all keychain items used by Adium.

OK. So here’s what I know… whatever choice I make here is pretty important and not able to be undone… and yet I know little about what the question is and pretty much nothing about what the options represent.

Not a pretty situation considering I was just installing an update to my IM application.

Potentially enough for me to bail and go install another application instead? Maybe.

It’s in the details people."    (Continued via disambiguity)    [Usability Resources]

Dialog Box Complexity - Usability, User Interface Design

Dialog Box Complexity


Blogger Evan Schoenberg said...

FYI, This is a systemwide dialogue, made and presented by OS X with no control by the running program which you'll see in any application you've updated that has keychain items stored.

5:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Firstly, I enjoy this blog a lot. I really believe the arguments presented here are thought provoking. Now for the long rant about this post:

You'll see that box when you update an application that uses a Keychain item. A Keychain item could anything from a username and password combination for web based email account to an IM account user ID. The dialog will appear only when the user has decided to store some information in the Keychain. Normally applications that integrate with the Keychain system, provide the user the option to whether include their sensitive information in their Keychain. In this case the IM client (Adium) does not provide the user with the option and stores the information automatically. Obviously, this is done for the convenience of the user.

For security reasons, Mac OS prompts the user to elect whether the newly installed version of the application should be allowed to access the same set of data. This, of course, is to thwart malicious applications that might download bit and pieces and try to access your information without your knowledge.

The button text in Mac OS, as you know, is verb based and it was a design choice that makes sense in most cases, instead of the standard 'Yes', 'No' options other desktop environments provide. In this case, however the verb based approached does not make sense for the first time user. Both 'Yes', 'No' and 'Don't Change', 'Change All', force the user to read the provided description, at least once, to make sure everything is done correctly.
However, this one case of ambiguity outweighs the always uncertain popup boxes in other operating systems, in my opinion.

10:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its all very well giving an explanation of what the dialog box means, but to someone who has no idea, its not much use, is it? If you dont understand the dialog box question, then its pretty useless.

Also, a dialog box question should have an appropriate response. For instance, something that says "Do you want to do this or that?" automatically instills a "Yes or No" repsonse.

And Apple prides itself on usability eh? :)

4:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Allow or don't allow would have been a better verb choice no?

This dialogue causes my brain to overheat every time I see it.

8:00 AM  

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