Design Process: Current Location “Headline”
This is a bit of the design process behind one line of one settings panel inside IMLocation.
The “Locations” panel controls everything having to do with to locations. The pane’s “headline”, outlined in red, shows what is assumed to be the current location.
It reads like “Your current location is home”. It does not say “You are: Home”, or “You are at: Home”, even though that’s shorter, and closer to the familiar “you are here” stickers. “You are at:” is out, because people need to be free to choose whatever names work best for them. Naming a job-location “working” should not turn the headline into nonsense like “You are at: working”. I choose not to go with “you are: …”, because it felt too imperative — like it was dictating what the user was doing. I wanted the copy to say “This is where the program assumes you are”. I’m still not 100% sure that this was the right phrase to use, but it is clear, and it works well enough.
Immediately to the right of the headline is a button, “That’s not where i am…”, which lets the user fix things if the presumed location isn’t where they are. The button is on the same line as the the headline, because I think this makes it a little more clear that the button corrects the current location. Putting it under the headline would separate it from the current location.
I wanted clicking on the headline to select the current location, so it could be edited. This seemed like a very intuitive action to me, but affording it turned out to be surprisingly tricky.
This showed that it was clickable, but looked kind of ugly, and testing showed it wasn’t clear to all users what clicking it did (“Why is that a button?”).
To clarify, I made only phrases that meant “the current location” clickable.
This was a big improvement, but still not good enough. The button’s borders broke up the text, making it choppy and slow to read. The “current location” button looked ugly and wrong, because normally buttons in OSX start with a capital letter. But capitalizing words in the middle of a phrase would be even more dissonant.
At this point I realized traditional buttons just weren’t a good fit. Every other button in the interface modified a location, but the buttons in the headline just select something. They don’t change anything. Every button I’ve ever seen in a good interface makes something happen — it changes data, or how data is presented, or searches billions of web-pages. I needed something a little less “heavy duty” then a button, that still afforded clicking, but didn’t break the flow of text.
Hyperlinks were a great fit. Clicking them means “show me that” — which is exactly what clicking the location headline was supposed to do — show something. They afford clicking, without breaking the flow of text.
So starting with v0.27 I made the key phrases links inside the headline.
I also put the “That’s not where I am…” button and the headline together in a box, to help re-inforce their relationship, and to give the headline some emphasis by giving it a border.
Leopard introduced a new button style, called “Recessed Button” in Interface Builder, that is a perfect fit. It has no border, and hilights on mouse-over, just like a hyperlink. (Basically, it’s what is used in the Safari Bookmarks bar).
Right now I’m leaning towards dropping support for Tiger, so that I can take advantage of the UI improvements in Leopard. I just wish I had a better understanding of how many users that move would alienate.