Context: The artifact contains a visual pointer, or
"virtual fingertip" (mouse or pen point, for instance) that is the focal
point for the user's interaction with the artifact. Nearly all the
primary patterns with a visual component can use this to good effect, particularly
Navigable Spaces for link descriptions,
Display, Status Display, Control
Panel, and WYSIWYG Editor.
Status bar help
Problem: How should the artifact present additional
content, in the form of clarifying data or explanations of possible actions,
to the users that need it?
Solution: Show a short (one sentence or shorter)
description of a thing, in close spatial and/or temporal proximity to the
thing itself. Allow the user to turn it on and off, especially
if the description obscures other things or is otherwise irritating; alternatively,
don't show it without some deliberate user action on an item-by-item basis,
such as pressing a key or hovering over the item for a certain length of
A short explanation may be all the user needs or wants; something long
will be overkill.
Users generally don't want to leave the artifact and go somewhere else
for help, such as a manual; this usually breaks one's concentration and
costs too much time.
There isn't room to put static descriptive text into the artifact, or visual
elegance precludes doing so.
The descriptive text might be useless most of the time, and may become
irritating if it is static or hard to turn off.
Resulting Context: You get to decide what text to
put into the Short Description. There's no point in being redundant
with whatever's statically shown in the artifact; if you're going to impinge
upon the user's attention with a popup or something, at least add some
value with it. You could use it to describe a possible action (as
with Pointer Shows Affordance),
or describe the results of the action, or reveal more data (thus implementing
Optional Detail On Demand).
Notes: In his January
11, 1998 Alertbox column, Jakob Nielsen strongly recommends using link
titles to help give the user a preview of where a Web link goes; they add
important contextual information to the sometimes-mysterious HTML links.
These are effectively Short Descriptions.
I've never seen it done, but this pattern could theoretically be used
with speech in a multimodal interface. As you focus your visual attention
on some feature, the Short Description for that feature could be spoken
aloud to you.
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Last modified May 17, 1999
Copyright (c) 1999 by Jenifer Tidwell. All rights reserved.