interaction design · usability

Dialog Boxes: Making simple things simple…


How much thought do you give to writing the text on dialog boxes when you’re designing?

It’s fairly common for these to be written by the developers as they’re being coded, from what I’ve seen. They certainly deserve a whole lot more attention than they generally receive.

Here’s a prime example.

Notice the text that has been bolded. It’s asking me a question ‘do you want to allow the new version to access the same keychain items (such as passwords) as the previous version?’.

Is it just me, or are the obvious answers to this question either Yes, or No. Yet this dialog box presents me with the options ‘Don’t Change’ or ‘Change All’. To which my immediate response is… Change What?! I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Let’s ignore the fact that, hypothetically, I have pretty much no idea of what a keychain item might be, the next line of text reassuringly tells me that whatever option I end up guessing at is permanent and affects all keychain items used by Adium.

OK. So here’s what I know… whatever choice I make here is pretty important and not able to be undone… and yet I know little about what the question is and pretty much nothing about what the options represent.

Not a pretty situation considering I was just installing an update to my IM application.

Potentially enough for me to bail and go install another application instead? Maybe.

It’s in the details people.

[Note: Yes, I’ve heard that Adium is the best IM client for Mac. I’m sticking with it for the time being.]

[Another quick note: how much do I *hate* the way that Mac software uses that little triangle on it’s side to represent ‘if you click here, a whole stack of functionality that you *really* need but have no idea where it is, will be revealed. Who thought *that* was a good idea? It has caused me grief over the past couple of weeks… even *after* I learned its meaning. End of moaning.]

16 thoughts on “Dialog Boxes: Making simple things simple…

  1. Just to point this out for others… that dialog box is the standard Apple one for updating an application’s keychain storage and not something the Adium folks designed.

  2. Welcome to the wonderful world of Apple ignoring their own HIG.

    You’ll see this dialog box almost any time there is OS X system update and it will appear for any application that stores values in an OS X keychain. (Which is an encrypted storage mechanism… commonly used to store logins and such so you don’t have to keep typing them in over and over and over.)

  3. Also for those who’d like to do research on this particular topic – GNOME implements a very similar concept called “Keyring”. The dialogs can be quite confusing there to. A common use case I’ve seen is:

    1. You try to connect to a wifi access point.
    2. You are prompted to enter a password for the wiki access point.
    3. GNOME prompts you to store the password in a keyring.
    3a. If this is the first time you are using your keyring you are asked to enter a password to secure the keyring.

    I’ve watched folks retype the wifi access point password as their keyring password *many* times. The dialogs aren’t visually different enough for most folks because usually when you are connecting to a wifi access point you are in hurry. (At a conference, meeting, wherever… trying to check your damn email to download that file you need for the presentation in ten minutes).

  4. argh. I have to say. My experience of getting to know my new MacBook has not been filled with pleasure, and has included a lot of frustration….

    I’ve been using Twitter extensively as Tech Support of late!

    Not sure if my expectations were over inflated, but it certainly has been disappointing. And finally, all the Mac evangelists are starting to say ‘yes, you have to learn it and there are lots of weird quirky things… but once you get to know it you appreciate how it works’. I think I’d appreciate a bit of thoughtful design more…

  5. As a long time user of various desktop environments: BeOS, GNOME, KDE, Mac OS, Mac OS X, NeXT, Newton, Windows…. Apple’s approach has tended to be the most consistent and least frustrating.

    Mac OS X is a bit of step back in spots when it comes to consistency though as the NeXT and Mac OS folks (along with the desire to appeal Windows converts) are battling out in development groups that often don’t communicate very well. Likewise Mac OS X has had to grow up in age where internet UI and visual elements are seemingly taken over in all forms of media regardless of how poorly they might rank in a closed scientific environment.

    Still none of these excuses are worthy reasons for Apple to completely fall over itself in UI design. I think if Apple had a more transparent issue tracking process it could leverage that along with the active user base to help find and solve many of these “minor” UI glitches. (“minor” in that… when you encounter several of them a day, it is eventually becomes quite frustrating.)

  6. Headline: Shock Horror!!! Macs are developed by humans who make mistakes!!!

    Leisa, seriously, for every stupid dialog box on os X there’s got to be 5 on XP. For every engineering centric app on a Mac there might be 5 on Linux.

    Nothings perfect, but if you’re having such a hard time then dump the Mac, get back on the XP pony and get back to writing great posts!!! Dialog box usability reports is sooo beneath you. (o;

  7. As a new Mac user, I spent minutes trying to figure out what I should answer, the first time I was faced with that. I’m so happy somebody else got puzzled ;)

  8. It seems to me that buttons should be labelled with actions – because you click them to do something – and “yes” and “no” are clearly not actions. It might be better if the buttons were labelled “Allow access” and “Disallow access” and the text changed accordingly.

  9. I’ve really messed up my keychain at different times, as I keep forgetting which is the “right answer” to DON’T CHANGE or CHANGE ALL. Such a sophisticated OS, you’d think this would not be an issue.

  10. I personally think it solves one little situation I have found myself in for ages: If you don’t read the text (many people don’t read it) it still gives you an actable button with a message that *might* be understood. Not making it a political case, but I think it, in some cases, is still better than Yes or No, and if you read it, well, you might know better. (Actually, after an application upgrade, while I’m filling some website or application data form, I really “like” when it appears, letting me know he can handle a password I might have already forgotten!)

    If you make it “Don’t add all keychains” and “Add all keychains” could improve, though.

    I think.

    (About the “Details” I don’t personally find them that instructive after the first time, but then it is just me, not a pleaded case)

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