|When using an application there often little features that can aid a user
in performing a task, for example on a spreadsheet you can click in the little gap between
the header of each cell and drag to enlarge and decrease the size of the cell to the left
of the gap. Like all visual operations there is normally a manual method for performing
the same operation. But the visual operation is simpler and quicker for the user and they
can save time by using this feature.
However the visual operation is only quicker for
the user if they know its there! So this article deals with how we can inform the user
that these little features are available and how we an do this in a standard manner.
There are many ways of informing the user that a feature is available, you can add
details in the help file or the manual, mention the feature in training, but relatively
few people receive training on custom applications and even less read help files and
manuals. Your application should be able to inform the user about the feature or at least
give them an indication that there may be some special feature that they may know about.
The easiest way to alert the user to a feature is by changing the pointer
to something other than the standard mouse pointer. To go back to our earlier example of a
spreadsheet, the most common way of informing the user about the cell resize feature is to
change the pointer to a West East pointer when the mouse is moved over one of the header
gaps. To be fair the user has to move the mouse over that location to find out about it
but in the general course of using the application they will move the mouse around the
screen to click on items and to access menus so very soon after starting to use the
application they will see a sudden flicker of the mouse pointer to a different style. This
visual cue is picked up by the user and they return their mouse to the same spot to see if
the same thing happens. Lo and behold it does and the west east arrows give an indication
of what type of function can be performed. The user can then experiment and and quickly
they learn the cell resize feature without reading a help file or manual and no training.
We can use this concept in our own application to let the user know about some visual
features or some hidden feature which may not be obvious or readily apparent. For example
a lot of applications have a feature similar to a list view where you can click on a
column header to sort the result set by that column. But how does the user know this
feature is available? A solution is to include a small key on the column that the data is
currently sorted but its still not obvious to the user that they can click on a header to
sort the data. Setting the mouse to a pointer with the same small key included when the
mouse hovers over a header at least gives the user a visual cue that there is more to the
header than meets the eye.
Drag and Drop is another feature that most users do not realise is available to them,
especially in custom applications, where you normally include left and right assignment
buttons to perform the same task. By changing the pointer to a regular pointer with arrows
pointing in the drag and drop direction will at least give the user a fighting chance to
know they can drag and drop items.
The following images are some examples of standard pointers you can use in your
application to give the user a visual cue that your application will let them perform an
action with the mouse that they may not know is available:
|General Drag Drop
||Drag East West
||Drag North South
||Resize Panel East West
||Resize Panel North South
||Click Here or Hyperlink
|Click To Sort
||Resize East West
||Resize North South
||Right Mouse Button
|Slider East West
||Slider North South
If you have any standard pointers that you have designed then please
send them in to share with other developers.