Scroll bars, elevators and the world of altered reality

In the initial years user interfaces derived heavily from real-life objects. Common examples include buttons, spin controls, dials, check-boxes and radio-buttons. Modern UI design relies on prior Computer exposure of general public and controls are now designed for the user-interfaces directly and not modeled on objects. Today we no-longer see the 3d button like controls in tool bars. There are exceptions like media players and clocks, but they have exact real-world couterparts.

One of the things that worked somewhat opposite to the real-world is the scroll-bar. When we read from a piece of paper, we move the paper up to continue reading it. However on-screen we click on the down arrow below the scroll bar to make the document move up. Some software like Adobe Acrobat models there user-experience on the real-world. There you have the option of using the Hand Tool to grab the document and push it up, as you’d do with a piece of paper.

Its funny to notice that most people are more comfortable with the scroll bar and not with this hand tool. Dominant software makes users conditioned to do things is a way so much so that they start feeling that this is indeed the right way to go.

I have noticed a very similar thing with elevators. In developed countries its hard (or impossible) to find someone not accustomed to elevators. But in developing countries like India you sometimes do find people who are not very familiar with it. For them elevators are like cabs, they figure out they need to summon it and once inside need to tell it which direction to go. For them the usage pattern is very different. If they need to go down and the elevator is on some floor below them, they’ll press the up button to call the elevator. When inside they’ll press the down button. But to their astonishment it’ll go to floors above them first.

Comments (6)

  1. Adam Young says:

    Nuh-huh. I really like the Hand-tool (which is funny, because apart from that I think Adobe Acrobat sucks). It’s a lot easier and intuitive to just grab the document and move it rather than having to pinpoint the mouse on a tiny portion of the screen and keep having to click to get the doc to scroll. The alternative is to use Page Up / Page Down, but this just interupts your reading and you have to scan the screen to find your place again.

  2. Doug says:

    It would be great if you could push down the mouse wheel to activate the hand tool in any program.  Trying it here in IE6 and Word 2000, it does activate some sort of accelerated scrolling mode.  It would be better if it operated more 1:1 so that the document would scroll or pan 1 pixel for every pixel that you moved your mouse.

  3. Ron Buckton says:

    I recently have been using a Tablet and when in slate mode, the scroll bar is actually a very difficult tool to use.  With the use of the stylus for navigation, you almost wish you could use the "digital eraser" end of the tablet stylus to grab and drag the page up and down.  That to me seems like an easy to grasp interaction between a person and the interface.

  4. Dilip says:

    > If they need to go down and the elevator is on some floor below them, they’ll press the up button to call the elevator.<<

    I say remove the floor numberings that tell you from the outside where the elevator is currently located.  I mean, what is the use?  Either I want to go up or down.  Why do I care where the elevator is at that moment?  That will remove one confusion and people can uniformly use the up/down button to indicate which direction they want to go.

  5. Kastaka says:

    The number that tells you where the elevator is can be handy in telling you whether it will be here almost as soon as you press the button or whether it will be ages and you may as well take the stairs.

  6. Very serious finding:

    Actually the problem is that the hand tool is used with a mouse.. that is like using a mouse (the rodent) to turn the pages of a book which it’ll surely nibble off!