Top user-interface Questions

List of Tags
Brad Leach

I am crafting an application and cannot decide whether to use the terms Login/out or Logon/off. Is there a more correct option between these two? Should I use something else entirely (like "Sign on/off").

In terms of usability, as long as I am consistent it probably doesn't matter which terms I choose, but I did wonder about the origins of the terms - and whether one or another makes more grammatical sense. I also care deeply about the application I am creating, and want to take the time to investigate all aspects of its user experience.

Answered By: Adam Liss ( 235)

Since you're looking for correctness,

login, logout, logon, and logoff are all nouns:

"Please enter your login credentials."
"I see three logons but only two logoffs from this user."

The corresponding verbs are each two words:

"Please log in to see your reputation."
"You must log off and talk to a human."

Update: according to, the various definitions of login are all nouns and involve gaining access to a computer or computer service. Interestingly, logon redirects to login as an exact equivalent. Have the definitions evolved?

Bear with me because this question doesn't pertain to an algorithm or any block of code. Rather, it deals with designing forms and applications.

I'm working on a project where the user is able to save their work (most likely to the HDD but also possibly any other media, including floppy disks). Sure, the popular File > Save option is there but what about a toolbar button?

By far the most popular icon is the floppy disk. However, the chances the user will write to the floppy are pretty slim. Still, I think the floppy is more representational than literal.

In the end, I'll probably stick with the floppy disk icon to keep the convention most users are familiar with but... anybody have any ideas on how to update this old icon?

alt text

Answered By: Welbog ( 178)

The floppy disk icon has become the standard for saving files. It's a highly recognizable icon and there's no reason to change that. Consistency between applications is a wonderful thing.

I suspect that over time the icon will grow more stylized and less like an actual floppy disk once people start forgetting what they look like (or never knew). The icon nowadays represents the concept of saving more than it represents floppy disks anyway.

Chris Ballance

Some of us just have a hard time with the softer aspects of UI design (myself especially). Are "back-end coders" doomed to only design business logic and data layers? Is there something we can do to retrain our brain to be more effective at designing pleasing and useful presentation layers?

Colleagues have recommended a few books me including The Design of Sites, Don't make me think and Why Software sucks , but I am wondering what others have done to remove their deficiencies in this area?

Answered By: Thorsten79 ( 362)

Let me say it directly:

Improving on this does not begin with guidelines. It begins with reframing how you think about software.

Most hardcore developers have practically zero empathy with users of their software. They have no clue how users think, how users build models of software they use and how they use a computer in general.

It is a typical problem when an expert collides with a laymen: How on earth could a normal person be so dumb not to understand what the expert understood 10 years ago?

One of the first facts to acknowledge that is unbelievably difficult to grasp for almost all experienced developers is this:

Normal people have a vastly different concept of software than you have. They have no clue whatsoever of programming. None. Zero. And they don't even care. They don't even think they have to care. If you force them to, they will delete your program.

Now that's unbelievably harsh for a developer. He is proud of the software he produces. He loves every single feature. He can tell you exactly how the code behind it works. Maybe he even invented an unbelievable clever algorithm that made it work 50% faster than before.

And the user doesn't care.

What an idiot.

Many developers can't stand working with normal users. They get depressed by their non-existing knowledge of technology. And that's why most developers shy away and think users must be idiots.

They are not.

If a software developer buys a car, he expects it to run smoothly. He usually does not care about tire pressures, the mechanical fine-tuning that was important to make it run that way. Here he is not the expert. And if he buys a car that does not have the fine-tuning, he gives it back and buys one that does what he wants.

Many software developers like movies. Well-done movies that spark their imagination. But they are not experts in producing movies, in producing visual effects or in writing good movie scripts. Most nerds are very, very, very bad at acting because it is all about displaying complex emotions and little about analytics. If a developer watches a bad film, he just notices that it is bad as a whole. Nerds have even built up IMDB to collect information about good and bad movies so they know which ones to watch and which to avoid. But they are not experts in creating movies. If a movie is bad, they'll not go to the movies (or not download it from BitTorrent ;)

So it boils down to: Shunning normal users as an expert is ignorance. Because in those areas (and there are so many) where they are not experts, they expect the experts of other areas to have already thought about normal people who use their products or services.

What can you do to remedy it? The more hardcore you are as a programmer, the less open you will be to normal user thinking. It will be alien and clueless to you. You will think: I can't imagine how people could ever use a computer with this lack of knowledge. But they can. For every UI element, think about: Is it necessary? Does it fit to the concept a user has of my tool? How can I make him understand? Please read up on usability for this, there are many good books. It's a whole area of science, too.

Ah and before you say it, yes, I'm an Apple fan ;)

If you program for a nontechnical audience, you find yourself at a high risk that users will not read your carefully worded and enlightening error messages, but just click on the first button available with a shrug of frustration.

So, I'm wondering what good practices you can recommend to help users actually read your error message, instead of simply waiving it aside. Ideas I can think of would fall along the lines of:

  • Formatting of course help; maybe a simple, short message, with a "learn more" button that leads to the longer, more detailed error message
  • Have all error messages link to some section of the user guide (somewhat difficult to achieve)
  • Just don't issue error messages, simply refuse to perform the task (a somewhat "Apple" way of handling user input)

Edit: the audience I have in mind is a rather broad user base that doesn't use the software too often and is not captive (i.e., no in-house software or narrow community). A more generic form of this question was asked on slashdot, so you may want to check there for some of the answers.

Answered By: t0mm13b ( 62)

That is an excellent question worthy of a +1 from me. The question despite being simple, covers many aspects of the nature of end-users. It boils down to a number of factors here which would benefit you and the software itself, and of course for the end-users.

  • Do not place error messages in the status bar - they will never read them despite having it jazzed up with colours etc....they will always miss them! No matter how hard you'll try... At one stage during the Win 95 UI testing before it was launched, MS carried out an experiment to read the UI (ed - it should be noted that the message explicitly stated in the context of 'Look under the chair'), with a $100 dollar bill taped to the underside of the chair that the subjects were sitting one spotted the message in the status bar!
  • Make the messages short, do not use intimidating words such as 'Alert: the system encountered a problem', the end-user is going to hit the panic button and will over-react...
  • No matter how hard you try, do not use colours to identify the message...psychologically, it's akin to waving a red-flag to the bull!
  • Use neutral sounding words to convey minimal reaction and how to proceed!
  • It may be better to show a dialog box listing the neutral error message and to include a checkbox indicating 'Do you wish to see more of these error messages in the future?', the last thing an end-user wants, is to be working in the middle of the software to be bombarded with popup messages, they will get frustrated and will be turned off by the application! If the checkbox was ticked, log it to a file instead...
  • Keep the end-users informed of what error messages there will be...which and this is a tricky one to get don't want them to think that there will be 'issues' or 'glitches' and what to do in the event of that...they must not know that there will be possible errors, tricky indeed.
  • Always, always, be not afraid to ask for feedback when the uneventful happens - such as 'When that error number 1304 showed up, how did you react? What was your interpretation' - the bonus with that, the end-user may be able to give you a more coherent explanation instead of 'Error 1304, database object lost!', instead they may be able to say 'I clicked on this so and so, then somebody pulled the network cable of the machine accidentally', this will clue you in on having to deal with it and may modify the error to say 'Ooops, Network connection disconnected'... you get the drift.
  • Last but not least, if you want to target international audiences, take into account of internationalization of the error messages - hence that's why to keep it neutral, because then it will be easier to translate, avoid synonyms, slang words, etc which would make the translation meaningless - for example, Fiat Ford, the motor car company was selling their brand Fiat Ford Pinto, but noticed no sales was happening in South America, it turned out, Pinto was a slang there for 'small penis' and hence no sales...
  • (ed)Document the list of error messages to be expected in a separate section of the documentation titled 'Error Messages' or 'Corrective Actions' or similar, listing the error numbers in the correct order with a statement or two on how to proceed...
  • (ed) Thanks to Victor Hurdugaci for his input, keep the messages polite, do not make the end-users feel stupid. This goes against the answer by Jack Marchetti if the user base is international...

Edit: A special word of thanks to gnibbler who mentioned another extremely vital point as well!

  • Allow the end-user to be able to select/copy the error message so that they can if they do so wish, to email to the help support team or development team.

Edit#2: My bad! Whoops, thanks to DanM who mentioned that about the car, I got the name mixed up, it was Ford bad...

Edit#3: Have highlighted by ed to indicate additionals or addendums and credited to other's for their inputs...

Edit#4: In response to Ken's comment - here's my take... No it is not, use neutral standard Windows not go for flashy colours! Stick to the normal gray back-colour with black text, which is a normal standard GUI guideline in the Microsoft specifications..see UX Guidelines (ed).

If you insist on flashy colours, at least, take into account of potential colour-blind users i.e. accessibility which is another important factor for those that have a disability, screen magnification friendly error messages, colour-blindness, those that suffer with albino, they may be sensitive to flashy colours, and epileptics as well...who may suffer from a particular colours that could trigger a seizure...


How do I declare an Android UI element using XML?

Answered By: Casebash ( 332)

The Android Developer Guide has a section called Building Custom Components. Unfortunately, the discussion of XML attributes only covers declaring the control inside the layout file and not actually handling the values inside the class initialisation. The steps are as follows:

1. Declare attributes in values\attrs.xml

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
    <declare-styleable name="MyCustomView">
        <attr name="android:text"/>
        <attr name="android:textColor"/>            
        <attr name="extraInformation" format="string" />

Notice the use of an unqualified name in the declare-styleable tag. Non-standard android attributes like extraInformation need to have their type declared. Tags declared in the superclass will be available in subclasses without having to be redeclared.

2. Create constructors

Since there are two constructors that use an AttributeSet for initialisation, it is convenient to create a separate initialisation method for the constructors to call.

private void init(AttributeSet attrs) { 
    TypedArray a=getContext().obtainStyledAttributes(

    //Use a
         R.styleable.MyCustomView_android_textColor, Color.BLACK));

    //Don't forget this

R.styleable.MyCustomView is an autogenerated int[] resource where each element is the ID of an attribute. Attributes are generated for each property in the XML by appending the attribute name to the element name. For example, R.styleable.MyCustomView_android_text contains the android_text attribute for MyCustomView. Attributes can then be retrieved from the TypedArray using various get functions. If the attribute is not defined in the defined in the XML, then null is returned. Except, of course, if the return type is a primitive, in which case the second argument is returned.

If you don't want to retrieve all of the attributes, it is possible to create this array manually.The ID for standard android attributes are included in android.R.attr, while attributes for this project are in R.attr.

int attrsWanted[]=new int[]{android.R.attr.text, R.attr.textColor};

Please note that you should not use anything in android.R.styleable, as per this thread it may change in the future. It is still in the documentation as being to view all these constants in the one place is useful.

3. Use it in a layout files such as layout\main.xml

Include the namespace declaration xmlns:app="" in the top level xml element.

    android:text="Test text"
    app:extraInformation="My extra information"

Reference the custom view using the fully qualified name.

Android LabelView Sample

If you want a complete example, look at the android label view sample.

 TypedArray a=context.obtainStyledAttributes(attrs, R.styleable.LabelView);


<declare-styleable name="LabelView">
    <attr name="text"format="string"/>
    <attr name="textColor"format="color"/>
    <attr name="textSize"format="dimension"/>


    app:text="Blue" app:textSize="20dp"/>

This is contained in a LinearLayout with a namespace attribute: xmlns:app=""


As the question says, how do I add a new option to a DropDownList using jQuery?


Answered By: nickf ( 254)

Without using any extra plugins,

var myOptions = {
    val1 : 'text1',
    val2 : 'text2'
var mySelect = $('#mySelect');
$.each(myOptions, function(val, text) {

If you had lots of options, or this code needed to be run very frequently, then you should look into using a DocumentFragment instead of modifying the DOM many times unnecessarily. For only a handful of options, I'd say it's not worth it though.