Welcome!

Release Management Authors: David H Deans, Liz McMillan, Jnan Dash, Lori MacVittie, Gilad Parann-Nissany

Related Topics: Release Management , Java IoT

Release Management : Article

Dialog Boxes, Habituation, and Single Threaded Thought

Being able to process information and analyze it intelligently is crucial to our ability to solve problems

In Jef Raskin's excellent book, The Humane User Interface, he discusses how the human brain is able to perform many tasks simultaneously while only having the ability to focus on one conscious thought at a time. Being able to process information and analyze it intelligently is crucial to our ability to solve problems, but once we have learned how to deal with a particular situation, just as vital is our ability to remember and recall the response without thinking. This allows us to drive a car while thinking about what we're going to have for dinner that evening. If, on said journey, an unexpected situation does occur, it's important that the brain recognizes it as such, pages out the pictures of seared sea bass, tasking the conscious high-priority brain to analyze and react to ensure we don't cause an accident. This process by which conscious though is relegated to subconscious processing is known as habituation and is important to GUI design for a number of reasons.

Users don't want to think about your application - they want to use it without engaging their conscious brain. An example is when a dialog appears, it means they have to stop their thoughts of dessert choices, so their reaction is based around thinking as little about whatever the dialog is asking them, and to move back to subconscious operation of the software as quickly as possible. Wizards fall especially foul of this when they gray out finish buttons until a minimum amount of information has been completed. All the user will do is enter whatever it takes to get the "Take me back to day-dreaming-Finish" button enabled, causing bogus values in entry fields, next pages with potentially important information that won't get visited, and so forth. A problem all dialogs suffer from is that since they are separate windows covering the original application, they are obscuring information (possibly modally) and the user's natural desire is to get rid of them by dismissing them.

The other problem with habituation is that whatever technique is used to try to grab the user's conscious brain will eventually become relegated to subconscious processing when done a number of times. An example of this is the ubiquitous "Are you sure? Yes/No" pop-up. Users get asked this so many times that pressing "Yes" is the default response whatever the question; so developers, when trying to ensure the user really does read the question because something irreversible is about to happen, play tricks like swapping the "Yes" and "No" buttons and changing which one is the default. Web sites that solicit e-mails often use this trick to keep you awake with two questions, both of which are asking whether you want to receive spam from them, one of which must be checked and the other unchecked; however, without reading them in detail you run the risk of being double spammed, hence you're kept awake and might read the rest of the gubbins the site is pushing.

The whole process by which users learn and operate software and whether subconsciously learned actions or conscious interrupted responses are being used is a topic that I think we don't pay enough attention to when designing user interfaces, and is responsible for a very high rate of so-called "computer errors," which often is a euphemism for incorrect operation. The basic assumption for any user interface should be to ask as little information as possible, to not ask questions (Jef Ruskin believes strongly in this and in having everything undoable so even if bad things happen, Ctrl+Z always undoes them), and to avoid dialogs altogether.

More Stories By Joe Winchester

Joe Winchester, Editor-in-Chief of Java Developer's Journal, was formerly JDJ's longtime Desktop Technologies Editor and is a software developer working on development tools for IBM in Hursley, UK.

Comments (1) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
JulesLt 07/10/09 04:28:00 AM EDT

I know you're suggesting modal dialog boxes are bad altogether, but a good recommendation (generally adhered to on OS X, but also backed by Joel Spolsky's User Interface Design for Developers) is that rather than Yes/No and OK/Cancel, dialog box buttons should always be verbs - Delete/Cancel, Save/Cancel.

This avoids needing to read a sentence to understand what the button may do.

But you are right - I like the idea of a system where you never 'save' and can always 'undo' - I think Etoile looks really interesting in that respect.

@ThingsExpo Stories
The current age of digital transformation means that IT organizations must adapt their toolset to cover all digital experiences, beyond just the end users’. Today’s businesses can no longer focus solely on the digital interactions they manage with employees or customers; they must now contend with non-traditional factors. Whether it's the power of brand to make or break a company, the need to monitor across all locations 24/7, or the ability to proactively resolve issues, companies must adapt to...
"MobiDev is a Ukraine-based software development company. We do mobile development, and we're specialists in that. But we do full stack software development for entrepreneurs, for emerging companies, and for enterprise ventures," explained Alan Winters, U.S. Head of Business Development at MobiDev, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
SYS-CON Events announced today that TMC has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo and Big Data at Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Global buyers rely on TMC’s content-driven marketplaces to make purchase decisions and navigate markets. Learn how we can help you reach your marketing goals.
SYS-CON Events announced today that TechTarget has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. TechTarget storage websites are the best online information resource for news, tips and expert advice for the storage, backup and disaster recovery markets.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Telecom Reseller has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Telecom Reseller reports on Unified Communications, UCaaS, BPaaS for enterprise and SMBs. They report extensively on both customer premises based solutions such as IP-PBX as well as cloud based and hosted platforms.
Artificial intelligence, machine learning, neural networks. We’re in the midst of a wave of excitement around AI such as hasn’t been seen for a few decades. But those previous periods of inflated expectations led to troughs of disappointment. Will this time be different? Most likely. Applications of AI such as predictive analytics are already decreasing costs and improving reliability of industrial machinery. Furthermore, the funding and research going into AI now comes from a wide range of com...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Silicon India has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Published in Silicon Valley, Silicon India magazine is the premiere platform for CIOs to discuss their innovative enterprise solutions and allows IT vendors to learn about new solutions that can help grow their business.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Ayehu will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on October 31 - November 2, 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara California. Ayehu provides IT Process Automation & Orchestration solutions for IT and Security professionals to identify and resolve critical incidents and enable rapid containment, eradication, and recovery from cyber security breaches. Ayehu provides customers greater control over IT infras...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MobiDev, a client-oriented software development company, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MobiDev is a software company that develops and delivers turn-key mobile apps, websites, web services, and complex software systems for startups and enterprises. Since 2009 it has grown from a small group of passionate engineers and business...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Conference Guru has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. A valuable conference experience generates new contacts, sales leads, potential strategic partners and potential investors; helps gather competitive intelligence and even provides inspiration for new products and services. Conference Guru works with conference organi...
SYS-CON Events announced today that GrapeUp, the leading provider of rapid product development at the speed of business, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Grape Up is a software company, specialized in cloud native application development and professional services related to Cloud Foundry PaaS. With five expert teams that operate in various sectors of the market acr...
In this presentation, Striim CTO and founder Steve Wilkes will discuss practical strategies for counteracting fraud and cyberattacks by leveraging real-time streaming analytics. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Steve Wilkes, Founder and Chief Technology Officer at Striim, will provide a detailed look into leveraging streaming data management to correlate events in real time, and identify potential breaches across IoT and non-IoT systems throughout the enterprise. Strategies for processing massive ...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 21st Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devic...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloud Academy named "Bronze Sponsor" of 21st International Cloud Expo which will take place October 31 - November 2, 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Cloud Academy is the industry’s most innovative, vendor-neutral cloud technology training platform. Cloud Academy provides continuous learning solutions for individuals and enterprise teams for Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and the most popular cloud com...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CA Technologies has been named "Platinum Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CA Technologies helps customers succeed in a future where every business - from apparel to energy - is being rewritten by software. From planning to development to management to security, CA creates software that fuels transformation for companies in the applic...
The current age of digital transformation means that IT organizations must adapt their toolset to cover all digital experiences, beyond just the end users’. Today’s businesses can no longer focus solely on the digital interactions they manage with employees or customers; they must now contend with non-traditional factors. Whether it's the power of brand to make or break a company, the need to monitor across all locations 24/7, or the ability to proactively resolve issues, companies must adapt to...
Amazon started as an online bookseller 20 years ago. Since then, it has evolved into a technology juggernaut that has disrupted multiple markets and industries and touches many aspects of our lives. It is a relentless technology and business model innovator driving disruption throughout numerous ecosystems. Amazon’s AWS revenues alone are approaching $16B a year making it one of the largest IT companies in the world. With dominant offerings in Cloud, IoT, eCommerce, Big Data, AI, Digital Assista...
We build IoT infrastructure products - when you have to integrate different devices, different systems and cloud you have to build an application to do that but we eliminate the need to build an application. Our products can integrate any device, any system, any cloud regardless of protocol," explained Peter Jung, Chief Product Officer at Pulzze Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA
SYS-CON Events announced today that IBM has been named “Diamond Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st Cloud Expo, which will take place on October 31 through November 2nd 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, California.
Multiple data types are pouring into IoT deployments. Data is coming in small packages as well as enormous files and data streams of many sizes. Widespread use of mobile devices adds to the total. In this power panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists looked at the tools and environments that are being put to use in IoT deployments, as well as the team skills a modern enterprise IT shop needs to keep things running, get a handle on all this data, and deliver...