Why do the pinned items in the Jump List go on the top instead of the bottom?

When you pin items to the Jump List, they go to the top of the menu that appears when you right-click the Taskbar item. Why not put the pinned items at the bottom? After all, over 98% of users leave the taskbar at the bottom of the screen, so putting the pinned items at the bottom of the list maintains a consistent position relative to the Taskbar icon, permitting the development of muscle memory.

The Taskbar folks tried out all sorts of ideas for ordering the Pinned items, the Frequent/Recent items, the Tasks, and the system commands on that one pop-up menu. And these ideas were put to the test: With real users.

Usability tests are one of those things that every developer should go through. You think you've designed a system that is intuitive and easy to use, and then you are shocked back into reality as you watch user after user struggle with your masterpiece.

In this case, the usability tests revealed that most people look for the important items at the top of the list. When they went looking for their pinned items, they started at the top. And often, if it wasn't there, they simply gave up.

The resulting order of items (Pinned, Frequent/Recent, Tasks, system) reflects the results of these studies. Since Pinned items go at the top, that leaves the opportunity to put the system commands at the bottom so that they have a consistent location. For example, Close is always the last item. That's where your muscle memory can develop. The Tasks go next to the system commands since they act like application-specific extensions of the system commands. Tasks also do not change, so that permits muscle memory to extend further into the menu.

Once the other three items are placed, the decision of where to put the Frequent or Recent items is forced: It goes beneath the Pinned items and above the Tasks.

There you have it: The order of the items in the right-click pop-up menu for Taskbar icons. There's a method to its madness. And it was decided by you, the users.

Pre-emptive hate: Yes we know that you think messing with the taskbar button right-click menu was the stupidest idea on the planet.

Comments (33)
  1. From the linked article says:

    In the linked article, it says that 98% of users keep the task bar at the bottom and then "This data does not necessarily mean we would remove relocation functionality, but rather we could prioritize investments in a default horizontal taskbar over other configurations.".

    True, but probably some of the 98% are not using a vertical taskbar because MS hasn't invested enough in it.

    That's to say, chicken and egg.

  2. Minos says:

    I've kept my taskbar on the top edge of the screen since Windows 95.  The order of pinned items never seemed unusual to me.

    Everything on the taskbar works great in this configuration, but there are far too many programs I use on a daily basis that stick their title bar behind the task bar.  Windows Media Player is the primary offender in this regard, but I don't know whether to blame the programs or the window manager.

  3. Skyborne says:

    A vertical taskbar probably needs a 100% separate design, like landscape/portrait modes on 16:9 tablets.  The systems I've actually tried it with (gnome 1/2, kde 3, windows 95/98/xp/vista) aren't very comfortable with it.  "Oh, my clock can be really tall.  I'll add the date and day of week and keep it all crammed into the middle third of my area."

    I'm not sure what I think of Ubuntu Unity, but they actually have started with a vertical-by-default "launcher"… and kept things preferring horizontal layout in the menubar.

  4. No One says:

    I love that "[T]hey simply gave up." when the pinned item wasn't at the top.  It's so weird to imagine a human being that, after taking two seconds to read 1/8th of the options presented, assumed that the other 7/8ths also lacked their target.

    On muscle memory, however, I have a big muscle memory problem:  I'm currently trained that when I right click on a file in Explorer the /second/ item is the one I want.  Whenever I look at photos through Explorer I end up setting them as my background image way too often.

    [It's not weird at all. These people concluded "Wow, this is nothing like what I'm looking for, I must be in the wrong place." Maybe programmers are the sort of people who will sit through an entire showing of Julie & Julia thinking, "Wow, they sure are spending a lot of time in Muggle-land. I'm sure Harry Potter will show up eventually." -Raymond]
  5. DavidR says:

    Something that anyone who has done usability testing has learned: Reality trumps logic.  

    Argue for your design all day and all night, but if users can't use it, you lose.

  6. Martin McNulty says:

    No One wrote:

    "On muscle memory, however, I have a big muscle memory problem"

    Me too.  I could quite happily take a clue-bat to whoever decided that "Help topics", rather than "Close" needed to be the bottom item in the taskbar button context menu for the management console.

    Not, of course, that I've ever built a UI that breaks any conventions…

  7. mvadu says:

    "messing with the taskbar button right-click menu was the stupidest idea on the planet"

    It was "the stupidest" idea till windows-8 came along forcing State screen, and odd looking start button in the classic desktop window. So taskbar grouping lost its place.

    P.S> I am not serious, just reflecting some of the comments on b8 blog. this is not hate fest.

  8. mvadu says:

    where is the edit button.. I mean Start screen.. last two days I am typing "States" too many times at work, which caused my muscle memory to build up, and I ended up typing State instead of Start.

  9. Joshua Ganes says:

    Usability tests are an interesting and humbling experience. I've never done a formal usability test in a lab, but I've run all kinds of "Hallway Usability Tests" as Joel Spolsky would say. Even running your design past fellow developers who are supposed to be just as logical as you are can help you identify confusing UI design and poor assumptions. The next time you design even a simple UI layout, set up a brief list of tasks and hand it over to the next person you see. Take notes of any trouble they run into.

  10. Gechurch says:

    I think Raymond's hypothetical logic of "important items should go at the bottom because that's where the taskbar is, therefore it's muscle memory" is pretty questionable. The final design definitely got it right; people are just far too used to reading from top-to-bottom. That's going to trump any computer-specific muscle memory.

  11. blah says:

    We can improve our foolproof systems, but God will always make a bigger and better moron. I agree with No One. Lusers are quite pathetic. Raymond's analogy is totally flawed. No One correctly frames the case as a manual O(n) search that would take say 1.8 seconds on average. Yet idiots draw sweeping conclusions from a tiny portion of a tiny sample set. Is it any wonder they vote the way they do?

  12. Joshua says:

    I don't even use the recently used item list. My muscle memory & spatial memory is so strong that optimizing the start menu doesn't pay.

    I do, however, used the pinned items list.

  13. xpclient says:

    Messing with the right click menu and requiring Shift wouldn't have been the stupidest idea if only Microsoft would have included Minimize and Maximize to the jump list. Plus, the Close action in the jump list is farther away from the point where you right click compared to the context menu Close action (works again years of muscle memory). That said, I don't deny the amazing idea that jump lists are (associating and pinning recent and frequent documents per app) so kudos to the Windows 7 shell team for that. I use 7 Taskbar Tweaker to restore right click context menu and use the jump list by dragging upward with the left button so I can use both. No Shift non-sense (it is basic usability degradation to make users use the keyboard and the mouse in combination for a very frequently done task).

    If feedback isn't falling on deaf ears, I expect you Raymond to forward this to the shell team (assuming you also work on that team still). Also, Microsoft can enhance the "Recent Items" item in the Start Menu to pin documents there too so even after clearing recent docs history, the pinned items remain in the "Recent Items" list. Instead MS is once again going in the wrong direction with Windows 8 by entirely "deprecating" and trashing the Start Menu and de-emphasizing jump lists.

  14. xpclient says:

    Also, I don't get why people put the Taskbar at the top or sides. The taskbar at the bottom is a very well thought out design, so Fitt's law is followed for all four corners of the screen. Top left=window menu, top right=close button, bottom left=Start Menu, bottom right=Aero Peek (improvement for Windows 7). Usability, usability, usability.

  15. Me says:

    Oh damn it. I typed out a response, the forum software ate it again and it's not there when I click page back.

    F* that, too lazy to type it all again.

  16. DWalker says:

    I have re-created a Quick-Launch type of toolbar in Windows 7.  I really, really like a small list of icons that I use fdrequently.  (And since my taskbar is two rows high, I can see about 12 things without QuickLaunch being too wide.)  Two rows of taskbar also gives me the day of the week near the clock!  I sometimes forget whether it's Wednesday or Thursday.  I usually know where I am, though, which is good.

    I never got used to Jump Lists and pinned icons.  I don't hate on them, though; bravo if lots of people like them.

  17. voo says:

    I really don't know why the hell I'd want to minimize an application. If I don't need an application any longer I probably want another open anyhow which will cover the old one anyhow, or I can just minimize it with win+down. At most I want everything minimized to get to the desktop but that doesn't help there either (and win+D works perfectly fine anyhow).

    But opening stuff I use often with a program? Well yeah I do that rather often (otherwise they wouldn't show up).

    PS: Is there any chance the blog software ever to be fixed? Well I'm already trained to copy every post before posting, but goodness that's still rather embarrassing.

  18. Nick says:

    I'd be interested in seeing the metrics on how much jump lists are actually used.  I know that I never use them, and while observing others using a computer I've not seen anyone else use them either.

    Speaking of muscle memory — that's my only real complaint about the new taskbar context menu.  I was very adept at closing windows using the context menu by right clicking then moving about 5 pixels up and clicking.  Now that the menus have a super thick border and open slower that doesn't work so well.  I'm working on replacing that with a "click and swipe up" movement instead of right-clicking, but the extra vertical movement seems to make it less precise :(

    @Martin McNulty: Regarding MMC — that bit me all the time on XP.

    @xpclient: Fitt's law applies no matter what edge of the screen the taskbar is on.

    @Me: Yep, copying a comment is now SOP before hitting the Post button.

  19. xpclient says:

    @Nick, no it doesn't. With the taskbar on the side or top and "Always on top", you can no longer close an app by shoving the mouse pointer to the top right corner of the screen or access the window menu from top left corner. And Windows 7 doesn't even let you disable "Always on top" for the taskbar unlike Windows XP where it was an option.

  20. MarcelK says:

    @xpclient: My decision to place it on top is based on this: when my laptop is in the dock, I want my main screen to be directly above the laptop screen. The important apps then run on the big screen, others like media players or browsers share the lower screen. Placing the task bar at the bottom of the main screen would actually put it in the middle of my desktop. Not good. Placing it at the bottom of the seconds screen is too far down from where all the action is. So it stays at the top of the upper screen.

  21. Bob says:

    I'm one of the 0.2% who has the taskbar on the right (on my office machine). I also autohide the taskbar because I want as much screen real-estate as possible.

    I often have a large number of windows open, and the task bar on the side handles this better in XP.

    Also, the annoyance that comes with autohide is that the taskbar pops out when you don't want it if you put the mouse too close.  It just seems that my mouse doesn't need to go to the right edge of the screen very often (compared with how often it goes to the top, bottom or left).

  22. Nick says:

    xpclient: Ah, I see what you mean. I thought you were considering just the hit area of the taskbar.  I agree about being able to hit the close button easily, though having multiple monitors throws some of that out the window :)

  23. alegr1 says:

    Those "recent" or "most used" items really need a tooltip with the full path. Too often I have several items with the same name (for example, same projects of different branches), and I don't know how to tell one from another.

  24. L J says:

    @alegr1 that tooltip is already implemented (tested on Win7 x64 using Visual Studio 2010's pinned and recent items).

  25. MiddleClick says:

    Jim: it's quicker to middle click on the window thumbnails.

    Thanks. Didn't know that middle click there closes the window or item.

  26. Jim says:

    Thanks for the interesting post. It's all very well to fix something in response to usability testing, but I'm not sure it would've even occurred to me to try testing *position* of jump lists. For what it's worth I have my taskbar on the right hand side, and jump lists work very well for me.

    By the way, since it was mentioned: it seems very clear to me that removing the old right click menu items was a very good choice. Most users would have been overwhelmed with the complexity of recent items, pinned items, and all the window tasks. Who on Earth right clicked on a taskbar button and chose "size" anyway!? I don't even use close on jump lists: it's quicker to middle click on the window thumbnails.

    PS I agree with voo on both the minimize point and the comment software point. This is my second attempt at posting…

  27. Evan says:

    My problem with taskbar on the side is as follows. You have three choices: go very icon-heavy (like the default Win7 configuration), write window titles vertically, or write window titles horizontally.

    I don't like option 1 for a screen with significant real estate. The titles of windows are important — sometimes *very* important — and I don't like collapsing multiple windows because it makes switching to one particular one harder. The only time I do that is on my laptop, because it has a very small screen. Option 2 sucks because vertical text is too hard to read. Option 3 sucks because it takes up too much space. You make *much* more efficient use if the taskbar is at the top or bottom, unless you have a *ton* of windows open. Vertical space may be more "important" than horizontal space, but it's not enough more important to let you actually *waste* a ton of space to empty taskbar space.

    That said, if you enjoy the taskbar on the sides, I'm glad you're happy. :-)

  28. MikeCaron says:

    @Jolyon Smith: I agree 100%! This is one of the biggest reasons I hate Window$ and use Linux all the time! On Linux, you are forced under any sort of tyranny; To rearrange the jump list (well… to add the jump list, and then subsequently rearrange it), you only need to fork the window manager's source and make a few dozen pretty easy changes, recompile, and reboot!

    On a serious note, if every feature starts with -100 points, then I can't really see this one getting anywhere close to breaking zero… Honestly, who really cares about what order they go in?

  29. Jolyon Smith says:

    "And it was decided by you, the users."

    At the risk of finding myself in Nitpickers Corner…  no.  It was decided by the developers based on the preferences of *certain* users.  Even if 100% of those sampled expressed this preference, this is not to say that the sample represents 100% of all users.

    If you offer the choice to "pin" then why not offer the choice over where those pinned items appear ?  By all means apply the default for this behaviour that reflects what your usability studies suggested would be the most popular, but that's not a good reason to then force everyone to submit to the tyranny of that popular choice.

    imho.  ymmv

  30. Neil says:

    @xpclient You're a godsend – I would never have realised that Shift brings back the right right-click menu. Phew!

  31. Medinoc says:

    I wonder where concerns for muscle memory were when the "parent folder" button was replaced with a breadcrumbs bar.

    At least it prevailed this time. This is good.

  32. BreadCrumbs says:

    @Medinoc I was once like you, but then I learned to stop caring and love the bomb, and by the bomb I mean the {Alt}+[Up Arrow] Shortcut, now when I use any pre-vista system I get frustrated that I don't have the shortcut.

  33. contextfree says:

    My only problem with jump lists is that somebody apparently forgot to tell the Lync and OneNote teams about them.

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