Turning a light off.

Imagine if every time you did this, when you flipped a light switch off, the light stayed on and the switch asked, “Do you want to turn the light off?” requiring you to flip the switch a second time. No one would put up with that annoyance. It would be the most infuriating passive-aggressive bullshit ever. This is the kind of thing someone would implement to drive you mad.

But this strategy is commonplace in software interfaces. As an example, on a Mac the default setting for Empty Trash is to ask you if you want to empty the trash. Properly then the menu item should read, “Ask me if I want to empty the trash.” This is messed up.

You can, and should, change this particular default behavior. Putting items into the trash is a deliberate operation. The trash is not a storage location. No one would, or perhaps I should say should, ever put any file they want to keep, in the trash. And putting something in the trash and emptying the trash is already a two-step process. If you can mess that up, adding a paternalistic, “Are you sure?” dialogue is not going to help you?

And how is this useful interface design? Every time my workflow is interrupted to repeat an instruction this way, I immediately think something like, “Why would I have asked you to ‘Empty Trash’ if I did not want to?”

At the very least interfaces should allow you to disable such warnings whenever they come up. Some do, but making users repeat themselves seems to be a core strategy in interface design..

Command-shift-q opens a Log-Out dialogue on a Mac, and this is fine. However if I deliberately navigate to and choose ‘Log Out User Name’ in the menu, up pops the same dialogue, asking me if I want to do the thing I just told the machine to do.

In bizarre contrast, command-option-shift-q effectively pulls the plug on a mac shutting down unceremoniously without giving you the option to save anything. This cannot be disabled and can be very upsetting if you are working in a 3D app where command-option-shift-w is a thing.

These two examples represent diametrical strategies and are inexplicable as they occur in the same OS. On the one hand we have the passive aggressive insistence on making you repeat commands you could not have chosen accidentally. On the other hand is the impossibility of disabling a keyboard shortcut you could not possibly want to use, and could quite easily enter accidentally. These choices are both dreadful design. I would be ever so pleased if designers stopped putting such in software.

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I am an experienced freelance graphic artist and sometime canoeist. I feel strongly about the quality of professional work and like sitting by a remote lake on a sun-warmed rock.

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