Thursday, January 1, 2009

Double Negative in Checkboxes

If you do not want to not read this post please proceed reading it…
Recently, I keep stumbling on annoying cases in which checkbox controls are designed to activate a negative operation. This is well illustrated in the example below:

Such cases are double negative and are very confusing, especially when the option to be marked is complex by itself.

[BTW, if the recipients I send my email to are working in the same building as I am, and they are running out of office, I guess I should be running out of office too, may be a cubical just caught fire… but I digress.]

Wouldn't it be simpler to have these checkboxes like this:

The problem with negative checkboxes goes beyond mere confusion, but also suggests a negative impression end-users get. Too many "don't do that" give the end-user the impression that the application they are using tends to do too many things which one better turn off.

It seems that such checkboxes where created with the notion that the feature of notifying the sender on "Out-of-Office" recipients is often regarded as a nuisance. Indeed, this way, this checkbox impart that feeling exactly: that this is probably an annoying and a redundant feature.

Here is another example:

It is very important to understand the mental-model of a checkbox: By turning on the checkbox option the end-user turns on ( "Activates") a particular capability. By turning off the checkbox, the end-user turns off and "deactivates" that capability.
"Do not ...." suggests a passive state. There is less sense in activating a passive state.

I must confess that there are a few cases which I am not yet sure if they should be treated as exceptions to the rule, or to be replaced by proper rephrasin of the option text. Two, very common, cases are "Ignore" and "Disable". On the one hand they are kind of a common instructions power-users are already accustomed to, though they suffer from the same problems as regular negative phrases. The Ignore options in this example:

Could have been easily phrased as:
So next time you define checkboxes in your application – THINK PUSITIVE.
(Yeah, I know I have spelling mistake. My "Ignore words in UPPERCASE" option was turned on…).

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