Gore good, pull down menus bad.
November 17, 2000 11:30 AM   Subscribe

Gore good, pull down menus bad. Jakob no likey drop down menus. I searched and could find no reference to the newest Alertbox. It may not necessarily be a hot topic but I have to agree with Mr. Nielsen. Pull down menus suck especially the ones created by CSS. Web design should not try to function like an operating system interface or a republican political campaign.

Did I include enough politics for this post?
posted by Brilliantcrank (18 comments total)

He likes them if they're used properly.

One of his problems with drop-downs I especially agree with: don't use them on items that are easier to type in. I loathe using a drop-down to put in "OR" for my state. Technology should serve people, not the other way around.
posted by frykitty at 11:35 AM on November 17, 2000

Dropdowns with State names are very easy to navigate, just use your keyboard. Tab to the dropdown, hit the first letter in your state, then tab to the next element.

I've always thought it was faster than typing myself.

Jakob's proclamation from on high is obvious to many, don't hide critical navigation in hidden elements, instead show all the choices. Big breakthrough there Jakob.
posted by mathowie at 11:51 AM on November 17, 2000

Microsoft did finally add keyboard control of pop-up menus to the Mac version of Internet Explorer, but they stupidly made it so it tabs to every link on the page, not just form elements. At the same time, they brililantly made the form auto-fill feature not work with such pop-up menus, which means if you use auto-fill you still have to tab to each of the pop-up menus and set them separately (or, of course, use the mouse). And, of course, if you use Netscape, you don't get any keyboard control of menus (or anything else, for that matter).

My verdict: use fields for state codes...
posted by kindall at 11:57 AM on November 17, 2000

frykitty, if you tab through the forms and use a decent browser, you should be able to just hit 'O' and bring up 'OR' or 'Oregon' in the list. Unless there's an O-state I'm missing...
posted by daveadams at 12:05 PM on November 17, 2000

Dropdowns with State names are very easy to navigate, just use your keyboard. Tab to the dropdown, hit the first letter in your state, then tab to the next element.

I've always thought it was faster than typing myself.

MN is only two keystrokes.
posted by gleemax at 12:06 PM on November 17, 2000

Well, I repeated everyone else's sentiments, but let me make one complaint about dropdown navigation in IE. The letters don't "pile up." Instead you're always searching on the first letter. I live in Missouri (MO) which is either the sixth or seventh 'M' state in the list depending on whether they included Canadian provinces or not. So I have to type 'M' 6 or 7 times. I'd much rather type 'MO' but that doesn't work.
posted by daveadams at 12:07 PM on November 17, 2000

Matt, you live in CA, right? So typing the first letter will take you straight to your entry. Pull-down state abbreviations are a lot more obnoxious when you live in, for example, MO and have to scroll or key down through MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, and finally (unless I've missed one) MO. Six keystrokes (M-down-down-down-down-down) instead of two (M-O). And by the way, OH and OK come before OR.

Just the same, I've come to consider pull-down menus for the (four-digit) year as even more obnoxious than the state code pull-downs.
posted by harmful at 12:09 PM on November 17, 2000

The use of pop-up menus for state codes also has to do with helping people select the right code. Even if a text field is limited to two letters some people still have no clue what their state code is.
posted by gluechunk at 12:10 PM on November 17, 2000

Blink tags are bad.
posted by Byun-o-matic at 12:15 PM on November 17, 2000

That last was in a "Mr. Mackey" voice, by the way, mmmkay?
posted by Byun-o-matic at 12:24 PM on November 17, 2000

I recently saw this drop down for States and Provinces for all the major countries in the world, and it was huge, but the good thing was that it listed the names in full.
posted by riffola at 12:55 PM on November 17, 2000

also, drop downs let the developers ensure data integrity. There's a reason most people collect this information, it's because they want to use it for whatever it is they use data for.

Since there's a certain limitation on the number of valid state entries, by providing the user with a limited possibility of selections you ensure you get good data in your database.

Yes, you can do a javascript check, or a server-side check, but then usability freaks would bitch about NOT being shown the permissible data.

A feature _I_ personally like is leaving an empty text box with a "Select" or "..." button beside it, popping up a list of valid selections. I'm then able to type ON when I'm entering my data. If that's invalid (maybe they prefer to get "ontario" the javascript can call the popup automatically.

Unfortunately, a lot of people don't like pop-ups because of the annoying bastards who use them for stupid ad hits or window spawning.

(every time I end up at a pr0n or warez site that uses a small, almost hidden window to spawn windows faster than I can close them, I keep thinking about the classic Robin Hood and Friar Tuck trojan on Unix systems. "I will save you Robin!")
posted by cCranium at 12:58 PM on November 17, 2000

I think it would be really funny if someone implemented a drop-down box for choosing your zip code.
posted by Succa at 1:14 PM on November 17, 2000

too bad Netscape 6.0 won't let you scroll with your mouse-wheel through a dropdown menu [cough:::cCranium:::cough] :)
posted by chartres at 1:27 PM on November 17, 2000

Thanks everyone--I know how to navigate a drop-down.

4 keystrokes I have to think about vs. 2 I don't. Multiplied by every time someone uses an unnecessary drop-down.

It's easy enough to verify data.

On the other hand, it is a very minor complaint.
posted by frykitty at 1:43 PM on November 17, 2000

One of the applications I've thought dropdown menus to be useful were to compress those long-long-long country lists I have to include on many a client's info form (specially tourism entities and such because of worldwide appeal), and, no matter what Jakob says, I still don't think clogging a form page with 200 country hyperlinks is a good idea. (we face a lot of "above the fold" space constraints) But not everyone needs to do that, and that's where Jakob's statements make sense.

Now that's some news - can't believe myself to be saying Mr. Usability is making sense for once :)

Besides, those stupid dropdowns take a lot more time to make than a simple input text field.

posted by betobeto at 4:37 PM on November 17, 2000

chartres, I wanted to email this to you since it's tangenital to the topic at hand, but you don't have an email address in your user profile. Should you wish to continue this conversations, please email me so we don't distract anyone else.

To be perfectly honest, I hate scrolling through drop-downs with my mousewheel anyway. Also, form elements in general don't seem to recognise my mousewheel the way I expect it to be recognised in IE or NN.

When I load a page in IE, it doesn't prompt me with a list of form data to automagically fill in, I have to at the very least start typing data. NN6 does do that, therefore it's better for me.

In other words, the drop-down thing is an interface issue, and has nothing to do with NNs ability to display web pages.

And finally, I just loaded up Word (2000, on Win2000), and tried to use the mousewheel to navigate through the zoom size and template and font name and font size dropdowns, and the mousewheel didn't scroll through those. That, to me, says that Netscape is following Microsoft's own UI guidelines, and Microsoft (in IE) isn't.
posted by cCranium at 10:44 AM on November 20, 2000

Slightly more on-topic:

(once again, I'm going to point people to my blog if they want a more elaborate version of the following, and if they want to see a pre-edit Mefi post stream of concious thing by me. Be thankful I edit :-)

I just realized that all Neilson's been doing, for the years of alert boxes he's written, is parroting old interface knowledge to people who've never built interfaces.

It's important people know this, but I think Neilson's greatest failing is that he's not willing to accept UI widgets gaining new functionality.

Part of the reasons functionality's been kludged on to the drop-down (which is what he's really complaining about in the linked-to alertbox) is because we as designers don't have any other means of showing it.

I mean, in an application the interface would be a textbox with a combo-box, so the user could type data in. As the data is typed in, the combo box keeps track of the letters punched in and highlights the first value to match that string. The user can then search the list of presented data, error-checking can be done against that list, and the user can just type in "can" hit tab, hit enter to choose, and they've filled "Canada" into the textbox.

Why don't we do that, anyway? I was all ready to think that the combo-box widget doesn't exist in webpages, but I'm pretty sure that the height attribute of the SELECT tag will create a combo-box widget.

Hrm. I may have to experiment now.
posted by cCranium at 11:42 AM on November 20, 2000

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