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Habitual Thinking, An Obstacle

Posted by Sravan | October 29, 2008 .

Being a part of the RIA community, I sometimes wonder whether we tend to forget the basics of usability while concentrating on the rich user experience. Here, I thank Jono for reawakening once again that thought with a nice example. (I apologize for not knowing his last name.)

Take a paper and draw a triangle and a quadrilateral. Now.

How many of you have drawn an equilateral or an isosceles triangle, and a square or a rectangle? I used to during most of my school days, and often misproved something because of such assumptions and the ease of constructions that they offered. Today, I consciously draw a scalene triangle and a quadrilateral that is not any kind of a parallelogram nor a trapeziod.

When you hear the word ‘menu’, what do you visualize? I see a rectangle dropping down from a point of mouse click. I guess most of us do, or this post would be presumptuous and unnecessary. We have become so used to rectangular menus that we find it difficult to imagine them otherwise.

Context Menus

Until Jono’s brilliant post, I wasn’t even aware of the existence of pie menus. Pie menus are more convenient when there are going to be a small, limited number of options, which is the case most of the time. Apparently, there are other kinds of menus like hierarchical and context-sensitive! I believe that all these kinds have some use, some situation where they work better than others. That is to say that there are also disadvantages of using them in the remaining situations.

We have become so habitual with rectangular menus that even the idea of other kinds of menus may be distasteful. It is like people finding the don’tclick.it website difficult to navigate without using the mouse click.

Jono works on user-interface design at the Mozilla Labs.

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2 Comments so far
  1. ariel sommeria  October 30, 2008 4:56 am

    Hi,
    I don’t think habitual thinking is an obstacle. It’s more of a factor to take into account when designing. You’d better have a very good reason to go against it, but it’s also an ally: imagine there was none? It would mean that your users would have to be taught everything from scratch
    Ariel

  2. Sravan  October 30, 2008 5:42 am

    I agree that it’s an ally, Ariel. But does an ally imply slavery? There are times when everybody is so tuned to habit, that it is (wrongly) seen as reason enough to abide by it.

    In the current case, how did this habit fall in place? Is it not from scratch?

    The question is, does it need to be a habit? Rather, the more important question is, will going against it have any great advantages?

    Had this been a case of a link to “Log Out” on the left-side of the page, it would have been different. Because we’re so tuned to having it on the top-right of the page, and apparently there is no reason why its placement should matter, we do mind when the habit is challenged.

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