Keyboard Abuse...and More

Subject: Keyboard Abuse...and More
From: Pam Tatge <pamt -at- STEINBECK -dot- SC -dot- TI -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 28 Jan 1994 15:52:11 CST

I have a strange mental image that I can't shake, thanks to
the debate about whether or not telling someone to press a key
also implies that they should then lift their finger. I keep
thinking about some poor person who comes to work on Monday
morning, sits down in front of a computer, types a user ID,
presses the RETURN key, and then...keeps pressing. Time passes;
coworkers pack it in for the day, the lights go dim, and finally
a tired finger slowly slips off of the RETURN key as its presser
passes out from weariness and boredom. (Hey, it could happen. I
work with someone who, after reading an instruction to "select
any container on your [Interleaf] desktop", called me to say he
didn't see a container named any. It's not just an urban legend

As for the alternatives, if the annoying sounds of tapping or
clicking on the keyboard drifted over our short walls, the
offender would be subject to a barrage of rubberbands.

Since we seem to be open to discussing such terms, I'd like to
nominate someone as Person at Whose Head I Would Most Like to
Throw a Big, Heavy Book, and that person is the one who came up
with "checkbox" and "radio button". My first objection is that
designers and tech writers try so hard to use consistent terminology
and imagery (desktops, cabinets, file folders, etc.). The only
commonality that I've ever been able to see in checkboxes and
radio buttons is that both may appear within the same dialog box;
there's no similarity in a larger context. My second objection is
that I don't think the terms are accurate. Checkboxes are usually
items in a checklist. Usually the purpose of a checklist is to
ensure that someone has everything listed, or that they complete
all the listed steps. Checkboxes don't work that way--you can
pick as many as you want. The idea of radio buttons--pick only
one--is pretty consistent with some (older?) dashboard radios.
But, the buttons on most radios are now programmable, and in some
cases, you can press more than one at a time. The analogy isn't
necessarily accurate anymore.

The way we get around this is by describing the action needed
for things that look a certain way, with out assigning a specific
label to those things. We thought about coming up with different
labels, but decided that the labels just got in the way.

What do the rest of you do about this? Are you okay with checkbox
and radio button, do you have labels that you think are better, or
do you avoid naming them, too?

Pam Tatge, Member Group Technical Staff
Texas Instruments Semiconductor Group, Houston
pamt -at- steinbeck -dot- sc -dot- ti -dot- com

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