Multiple Ways to Do It

By do it I do not mean sex! What dirty dirty minds you all have. Infact I want to talk about the dual of limiting user choice. My post on limiting the number of choices a user has to make, has an obvious corollary in that you want to give the user multiple ways to accomplish a task.

A classic example are the cut-copy-paste operations. Windows/Linux/Apple all have three distinct ways to cut/copy/paste.

1. Select the text and goto the edit menu and select the cut/copy operations. Similarly goto the edit menu to paste.

2. Select the text and then use the right click menu to select the cut/copy operations, ditto for paste.

3. Use the keyboard shortcuts for the cut/copy/paste operations.

There are the three different ways to cut/copy/paste because, depending on the user they will prefer one way or another. Also if there was only one way to cut/copy/paste many users would never figure out how to cut/copy/paste.

Also the keyboard shortcuts are for power users (you can see this by observing run of the mill users who almost never use the keyboard shortcuts).

I want to make clear that the purpose of having multiple ways to do a task is to allow for the variance in how the users of your application think. As designers we want our application to be appealing to all of its users. This implies that we must have multiple ways to accomplish tasks because our users have different mental models of how the components of our application fit together. For example in Firefox you can create a new tab by (1) File-> New Tab menu, (2) Ctl-T Keyboard, (3) right click on link and click New Tab. Firefox needs all of these different ways to create new tabs because some users want to use the File menu, some want to use the keyboard and some want to right click. Any one of these ways is the “right-way” but the only way to keep our users happy is to include all three.

This post is almost the dual of the my post on limiting user choice. A big part of creating a good user interface is in finding the best balance between limiting choices and having multiple ways for users to accomplish their tasks.

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