Applying Fitts’ Law to Commonly Used Buttons

11 July, 2011 § 14 Comments

In a previous post, I covered my work on improving the usability of the Back button in Firefox. Starting with Firefox 8, clicking on the area between the edge of the window and the Back button will fire a Back-navigation event.

The idea behind a change like this comes from Fitts’ Law. From Wikipedia, Fitts’ Law “predicts that the time required to rapidly move to a target area is a function of the distance to the target and the size of the target.”

All operating systems that I have used stop users from moving the mouse off the screen (outside of the virtual desktop space). This means that if a user hurriedly moves their mouse across the screen, it will stop on the pixel that borders the edge. By adding an action to this area, the area becomes a very easy to hit target for users.

Clickable area of the Close and Start buttons is shown in this graphic.Taking advantage of this feature is not unique to Firefox. There are many individual parts of the Windows user interface that exhibit this same usability trick.

  1. When a window is maximized, the Close button is positioned in the top-right corner of the desktop. Visually, there is four pixels of padding between the button and the right edge of the screen. However, clicking in the padding will still close the window.
  2. The Start button is located in the bottom-left corner of the screen. There is eight pixels of padding between the button and the left edge of the screen. Clicking in this padding will launch the Start menu.
  3. Windows 7 introduced a button in the bottom right of the screen that is used to show the desktop. There is no padding between the button and the edge of the screen.

I was not part of the decisions to place these button in these positions, however I strongly believe that Fitts’ Law played a role in their location.

These are just a few of the many ways that Fitts’ Law can be found in user interface design. See if you can find others that I didn’t mention :)

Windows 7 Quick tip: Docking windows

22 January, 2011 § 1 Comment

A lot of Windows 7 users enjoy the new window docking feature that was introduced with Windows 7. This feature is officially called “Aero Snap”. If you haven’t seen it before, what it does is allows you to drag a window to the left, top, or right of the desktop and the window will “snap” into position. If snapped to either left or right, the window will consume half of the screen. If snapped to the top, the window will consume the entire screen.

This is a really cool gesture that saves time and looks nice while doing so. If you have multiple displays, you may be wondering how to dock the middle two adjoining displays.

It turns out that there is a keyboard shortcut which makes this possible. The keyboard shortcut allows you to do everything that your mouse can do and even more.

Simply hold down the Windows key (), and use the directional keys (←↑→) to snap the window to the various positions. Pressing Windows key () and Down (↓) will unsnap the window.

Quick tip: Running as Administrator without leaving the keyboard

8 January, 2011 § 3 Comments

Once in a while I have to edit my ‘hosts‘ file on my Windows machine. The ‘hosts‘ file allows a user to redirect network requests to different locations, for example if you wanted requests to google.com to go to bing.com instead.

On my machine the ‘hosts‘ file is located under “C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc\hosts“. Since this file is located under the Windows directory, write access to the file requires administrator privileges.

Simply running notepad.exe, open the file, make changes, and saving won’t work. The editor will have to be launched with administrative privileges.

There are a couple of ways that this can be done, and I want to show you one of the fastest ways to do this:

For those who don’t want to watch the video, the shortcut is to hit the Windows key (), type ‘notepad‘, then press Ctrl+Shift+Enter. This will launch the program with administrative privileges without taking your hands off the keyboard.

Do you know any cool tips like this one? Please share them in the comments.

Undoing default association of *.zip files with 7-Zip

1 October, 2010 § 1 Comment

Ever install 7-Zip but wish to go back to the default Windows way of double-clicking on a *.zip file and having Windows open the file natively? A friend of mine asked me this very question, so I figured I would share the solution in case anyone else is looking.

To revert back to the default behavior, simply follow the steps that I performed in this video below:

Let me know if you have any questions.

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