This is something that you should read if you’re interested in usability: Mixing Games and Applications.
The author states that the software developing world has much to learn from the world of games, and I agree wholeheartedly.
For me the high point of the presentation is when the author shows the basic model for applying exploratory learning:
If you think about it, software in general doesn’t make much use of different mouse cursors. The most widely used ones are the resize and pointer – both being hugely effective and useful hints as to what to do with the element below the cursor.
Since the web came to be, the little pointing hand became an universal symbol that indicates we can click on something.
For some time now I’ve been thinking of ways to apply the concept of exploratory learning to the softwares I help create. One such way is to explore the mouse cursor.
Let’s say the user’s just filtered a list of clients, and his goal is to see more data about a particular record. He instinctively hovers his cursor over the desired record and the application changes the mouse cursor to this:
He has a goal: see more data.
As he hovers the mouse over the record, the mouse cursor changes – he has a stimulus.
He already now how the mouse operates, so he has the skills to relate to the stimulus.
Now the user does something – probably click once at the record. And nothing happens. Absolutely nothing, he doesn’t get what he wants, but also doesn’t trigger anything bad. Those are the rules.
If everything goes well, he’ll try again and, hopefully, succeed when double clicking the record.
The same spirt could be applied to these other two badly drawn cursors.
One for right clicking:
And one for grabbing things:
If more than one action is possible in the same area with the mouse, things start to get a little complicated. But providing multiple controls on the same object is prone to error and frustration: a square that can be clicked, double clicked and right clicked. We should avoid this kind of solution.
If you feel tempted about animated cursors, please don’t. Repeated animations are sources of irritation, they steal our attention and lose their use after the first time we understand what they mean.
What do you think?