How hard can it be to use a mouse, anyway?

How hard can it be to use a mouse, anyway? Harder than you think!

Pop-up context menu

An example of a pop-up context menu

Do you use the right mouse button? When you click it, you get a pop-up context menu with commands related to what the mouse pointer was on. It’s helpful if you know about it and can make you more efficient. (It’s sometimes called the secondary mouse button, or MB2.)

More important than whether you know  how to use it, do you know if your customers know about it? I’ve always thought it was a fairly advanced interaction technique, something that average computer users don’t know about.

Some observations from usability studies:

  • I saw people clicking the right-mouse button in a study this year. They must have learned about it at some point or they probably wouldn’t have tried it. But they were clearly lost and using it as a last resort.
  • In an earlier study, some important features were only available through the pop-up context menu. People who didn’t know about it could never find those important commands and were unable to get their tasks done.

That doesn’t mean you should never use the right-mouse button when you design an application. Many people do know about it and depend on it for efficiency. But don’t assume that people will use it. Anything available on that context menu must be available (and obvious) somewhere else.

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2 Responses to How hard can it be to use a mouse, anyway?

  1. Hal Shubin says:

    (For those of you who subscribe to this, go back and read the original posting again. I posted a draft by mistake. UI problem, maybe a topic for another blog post.)

  2. Karl Puder says:

    Hence the dictum in the original Macintosh™ Usability Guidelines that every function be available in a pull-down menu, even if it is also available by other means, such as shortcut key combination. I’ve seen several instances recently, including from Apple, of violations of this guideline, with some features only available from a “right-click” on an item popping up a contextual menu for that item. For example, in iTunes, there’s no menu item to “Back Up” an iPhone, but it’s on the contextual menu of the iPhone’s name in the left column.

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