User know-how about drop-down boxes

2 Jun 2008 - 4:15pm
6 years ago
8 replies
1541 reads
vlad
2008

Hello list :)

A client of mine suggested an auto-complete field for a certain feature.
He also said the following: if a user is too lazy to type (which might be
true, as power users are
the ones who use the keyboard - or is it?) we should also provide a classic
drop-down box with
all the available options.

Now, my question relates to the usefulness of auto-completes.
Don't you think that the users know that if they click a drop-down box, they
can type in the first letter
of what they are looking for and the browser would select the first option
that starts with that letter for them?

I'm testing this on every browser I've got. I'm on Windows (sadly) and it
works on IE6 IE7, Firefox 3b2,
Firefox 2, Opera 9 and Safari.

You can actually type more than one letter, and the browser will remember
your entire word.
This happens in all listed browsers but IE6. This is actually a bit weird,
and targeted at power
users for sure, because if you let more than, say, half a second between key
strokes, the word
resets and the dropdown jumps tothe letter you are pressing.

So, first question: were you aware of this?
Second question: are normal internet users aware of the first letter option?

As a first insight, earlier I asked my not so tech-savvy life partner, and
she didn't know of either.
(vv should really be kerned :)

If everyone would know about this feature, I really think that
auto-completes would be less useful
in some cases (because they're js and such).

Thanks!

--
http://nomorestories.com/

Comments

2 Jun 2008 - 4:40pm
Amanda Mallinger
2006

Hi Vlad,

I've been working with customers and how they work with software
(first in support, then moved to development) for 9 years, and
customers didn't know then, and still do not (at least in our
market) understand type along features. To be fair, the features
don't always work the same, which undermines a person's ability to
recognize the pattern. As you pointed out sometimes you get the
multiple character support, sometimes you don't.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=29732

2 Jun 2008 - 4:51pm
Mila Songer
2007

I know several ladies who work at a retail H&R Block store during tax
season (using PCs to fill out hundreds of USA federal income tax
returns during tax season) and I have overheard them complaining
about having to leave the keyboard and use the mouse for pull down
menus. I was curious why they thought they had to do this and asked
why. They said they normally prefer to tab to each field and type in
the data, but for pull down fields they HAD to use the mouse to
select the desired value since the field was filled in with something
already so they couldn't type in it. (I was fascinated by their
interpretation).

They resisted hearing that they could still tab, then just type the
first letter then use up/down arrows if needed.

I don't know if this is helpful or not, but here you have two data
points for 50 yo American females. It's a small set so I might
discount it, except for these employees are trained exclusively on
PCs and are completely dependent on the software to do their entire
job.

I think if it were me, I would really want users to know about the
feature but be very worried that they didn't.

Best of luck!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=29732

2 Jun 2008 - 5:10pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

(Sorry for the re-post, Vlad—I forgot to hit Reply All.)

> Don't you think that the users know that if they click a drop-down box,
> they can type in the first letter of what they are looking for and the
> browser would select the first option that starts with that letter for them?
>

First, I think (based on all the usability tests I've been privy to, which
ranges in the hundreds of hours) that a small % of people have learned this
at some point, and a small % of that small % remembers to use it ...
sometimes.

Second, I think that even the geeky among us sometimes move the mouse
pointer to and click to focus a field that was already auto-focused.

Third, I think that even the supremely geeky among us with most of the apps
we deal with on a daily basis were easier to use.

Finally, I think that everyone makes mistakes, however small, and most of us
do so extremely often. (Take the first sentence of this message, for
example.)

-r-

2 Jun 2008 - 5:22pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

>
> I've been working with customers and how they work with software
> (first in support, then moved to development) for 9 years, and
> customers didn't know then, and still do not (at least in our
> market) understand type along features.

Well, that's not entirely true.

Example: a college student directory that features suggest-as-you-type,
pulling from a small set of possible results (students) to filter out all
but those whose names started with the letters entered. Tested through the
roof, and the simplicity was much appreciated.

Yes, there are caveats. Example: users who stare at their keyboards while
typing may not notice the filtered results unless they look up at least once
(and sometimes not even then), but if the results are still on screen when
they finish typing, they do eventually notice and often love that they
didn't have to click to the next page to get search results.

Even with the caveats, I've seen far more instances of "I get it, and I love
it" than I have of "What the heck just happened?".

The testers spanned a wide demographic range. Different careers, colors,
religions, eduction levels, computer experience levels, ages—you name it.

I'd be interested in knowing what makes up your market.

-r-

2 Jun 2008 - 6:32pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

>
> My comment was intended to be a direct response to whether or not users
> know that they can type the first letter and have the drop-down list
> advance…and to that my answer (again, based on our market) is still "no,
> they do not."
>
Ah—I see now. I thought you were saying people didn't understand
suggest-as-you-type, but you were talking about the dropdown menu issue.
Sorry for the confusion.

-r-

2 Jun 2008 - 7:22pm
Caroline Jarrett
2007

From: "vlad" <vlad.fratila at gmail.com>

: A client of mine suggested an auto-complete field for a certain feature.
: He also said the following: if a user is too lazy to type (which might be
: true, as power users are : the ones who use the keyboard - or is it?)
: we should also provide a classic drop-down box with
: all the available options.

Some users can't type. For example, just today I was talking to a technical writer who never touches the keyboard because he gets
problems with his hands. He uses voice recognition, a sip-and-puff switch, and an eyetracker.

: So, first question: were you aware of this?

Yes

: Second question: are normal internet users aware of the first letter option?

No. It's a tough feature to discover on your own: someone has to tell you that it's possible. So you get sort of 'islands of
knowledge' where someone told someone who told someone. And then, even people who know don't necessarily use the feature. You have
to be sufficiently familiar with the drop-down options to know the first letter of the choices available, and then be willing to
type the initial letter frequently enough to get to the one you need.

For example, I know that U will get me to United Kingdom in a country list, but it takes a variable number of Us to get there - and
sometimes, it doesn't work at all because my country has been listed under England or Great Britain.

Finally, if you client thinks that 'too lazy to type' is a description of your users then maybe a bit of audience research would be
a good idea. Well, it sounds like almost certainly a good idea.

Caroline Jarrett
caroline.jarrett at effortmark.co.uk
07990 570647

Effortmark Ltd
Usability - Forms - Content

We have moved. New address:
16 Heath Road
Leighton Buzzard
LU7 3AB

2 Jun 2008 - 6:25pm
Amanda Mallinger
2006

Hi Robert, and Vlad too

In response to Robert's question (Thanks for asking, I should have included
this info. in the first place): Our market ranges from nonprofit volunteers
to post grad. level fund development professionals ranging in age from
30-70, greater than half female (about 60%).

I didn't mean to imply that nobody knows the functionality, just that as a
market, our customers do not. It's an interesting market, because while some
of the people are highly trained professionals, we also have a large number
of "off the street" types volunteering who may have little computer
experience, next to no training, and limited domain experience. And, to add
more fun to the mix, because of the nature of volunteerism, turnover is such
that the user base (as a whole) is perpetually in the beginner stage. It
actually makes development very fun and rewarding. (The product is a
fundraising/CRM app.)

My comment was intended to be a direct response to whether or not users know
that they can type the first letter and have the drop-down list advance.and
to that my answer (again, based on our market) is still "no, they do not."
That isn't to say that people cannot learn the feature. People do appreciate
it when they are told about it, though based on our call logs, they do not
always remember it once the call is over. ;)

My comment about the implementation not always being the same stems from
different browser implementations, as well as different Windows application
implementations. (I have no recent experience with Mac environments.)

1. No multiple character support

2. Multiple character support as though the user didn't intend to type
"rr", but instead meant :Take me to the second "r" in the list.

3. Multiple characters are treated as a grouping and I am taken to
where "rr" would be in the list.

4. If I type slowly, the multiple characters are treated as a single
character.

5. If I type slowly, multiple characters are still treated as a group.
(Now how do I clear this group? Backspace? - These questions are merely
illustrating the irritation I feel as I encounter the differences in
implementation. I'm not actually asking anyone to answer them.)

-amanda

2 Jun 2008 - 7:47pm
vlad
2008

Thank you for all the answers.

Caroline said "if you client thinks that 'too lazy to type' is a description
of your users then maybe a bit of audience research would be
a good idea."
Well, when is that a bad idea? :)

Katie said "normally I tab through forms, and invariably the drop down menu
is skipped"
I'm not sure I follow... cause you CAN tab to a drop down. In IE6/Win... so
in every browser :) Oh, and IE6 actually highlights it.
Random form to test in: http://www.earthhour.org/sign-up

And i totally love this you wrote: "And the next person who puts a drop down
menu with all the nations or all the states in front of me will probably
hear the explosion". Unfortunately, clients hate explosions. I think.

Mila, thank you for the story, it's fun-tastic.
"They said they normally prefer to tab to each field and type in
the data, but for pull down fields they HAD to use the mouse to
select the desired value since the field was filled in with something
already so they couldn't type in it."

Amanda, thanks for the thourough answer.
My problem is, I kinda do need a country list :) And it needs to be in a
really small space.

So, I would dare to extend the question: what's best practice in dropdowns
with lots of items? Other that not having lots of items, that is.
I mean, we could ressurrect Hitler and wipe out a few dozen countries, but
that sounds rather rash, don't you think?

Probably dividing the options in categories, and doing a widget like the one
on deviantart.com (top left, labeled Categories), would be a nice approach.
Other ideas?

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