Monday, March 25, 2013

In which the obvious is shown to be not so obvious at all.


My wife does not know how to right click. I learned this while trying to introduce her to a new PC game. It took me a while to spot what she was doing wrong because I blithely assumed that everyone knows what right-click means. When I eventually spotted what was happening I asked her why she wasn't pressing the right mouse button she replied "Oh that button? I never use that. The mouse is already in my right hand so I assumed that right clicking just means pressing the normal mouse button."

Before chuckling at my wife's naivety (what on earth does she so when the computer asks for a left click?) please consider this: This lady is not dumb, nor is she a computer novice. Far from it in fact. This is a very smart highly successful professional who has been using computers heavily for more than twenty years.  In her work she routinely creates enormous complex spreadsheets. At home she is an avid photographer and has mastered a host of complex image processing programmes all running on Microsoft Windows.Yet she does not know about using right click to open context menus, a feature that has been a key element of every Windows operating system since 1995. 

I didn't think it was even possible to use a modern operating system without right clicking. It gives you access to many vital actions like copy, past, unzipping, opening properties, creating shortcuts, undoing actions, creating new files and folders. I don't actually know any other way to do a lot of these actions. My wife it seems either does without these actions or has found other ways involving keyboard shortcuts or left clicking menus.

I am sure there is a lesson for interface designers in this. Is it a failure of the operating system that such a vital function is so not obvious that a smart user can go for twenty years without discovering it or it is a triumph that there are multiple ways to achieve different actions leaving each user free to choose their own?

Mouse and Keyboard interfaces are dying they tell us, to be replaced by the intuitive simplicity of touch. Yet the context menu is not dead. Many touch screen programmes use long press to bring up a helpful context menu. I wonder if my wife knows about this? Should I tell her?

2 comments:

Winged Nazgul said...

Maybe she grew up learning to use a computer on Macs?

Their one-button mice would preclude ever learning to right-click.

mbp said...

Curious thing WN - she has never to the best of my knowledge used a Mac but she has an iphone and when I asked about it she already knew about long press for context menu on the phone. She points out that it is intuitive to press the single button for longer to get more info but it is not intuitive to press the right hand mouse button. Score one for Apple usability I guess.