The Case Against Caption Icons

I avoid using Caption Icons in sheet Objects. I prefer to teach users to right-click to access the same functionality. In V10, there is also the option to use a  “Menu” caption icon that provides the same options as right-click.

Here are my arguments for not using caption icons that duplicate the functionality available in right-click.

Note: I realize there are some limitations in the Ajax client prior to V9 that may require icons. My comments are directed at V9+.

  1. The redundancy and visual clutter waste screen space and distract from the data. If you are a fan of Edward Tufte’s work, you’ll recognize this as “low Data-ink ratio” and “Chartjunk”.
  2. They deemphasize icons that may be unique and important to a specific chart. These are things you want the user to notice, for example Help or Fast Change.
  3. They force the designer to display a Caption even when a Caption is not desirable for the layout.
  4. They keep users ignorant of the full power available, leading them to believe that they are limited to the functions offered by the displayed icons. Have you ever received a change request like “Please add the export to Excel function to chart X so we can export it.”?
  5. Also on the ignorance theme, users don’t become aware of new functionality if you don’t add the new icons.
Comments and counter arguments welcome.

7 thoughts on “The Case Against Caption Icons”

  1. I pretty much agree – a pet hate of mine is minimize icons on charts that shouldn’t be minimized, or any appearance of the maximize icons. I can’t seem to help having the XL icon on just about every object though – will have to try and break the habit!

  2. As a follow up to previous comment – I tried leaving XL icon off on next job. The client spotted one on a demo I showed them and insisted I add it to each object in their dashboard. I explained the right click option – but to no avail. Oh well.

  3. It violates user interface design principle of “Recognition rather than recall”. By requiring the user to remember or repeatedly right click just to see what functions are available, it decreases user convenience, places a higher burden on the user’s working memory, and forces the user to attempt to internalize knowledge of how QlikView works, making the learning curve harsher.

  4. @Anonymous,
    With so much visual clutter, can the user “recognize” anything?

    In Notepad, the “File” menu option pulls down seven options. Are you suggesting that those seven options should always be visible?

    My primary argument is that displaying repetitve and redundant visual clues distracts attention from what is truly important.

  5. I agree with Rob completely. Whether or not this plan of action makes the learning curve increase, as a designer/developer, you should almost always be looking to find solutions. That extra right click is only gearing you up for success.

    Knowing you may need to right-click to find your answer, powers you with the knowledge of navigating an interface and acquiring new concepts.

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