Tip For Better Usability

Here’s a very small and practical tip that is forgotten by many companies when designing interfaces: checkboxes or selection boxes should always be told in positive format. For example, if player can tick to enable AntiAlias then the box should look like this:

AntiAlias Enabled

In no case there should be like this:

Disable AntiAliasing

The first option is much easier for human brain as there’s only one thing to process: “AntiAlias is enabled”. But in the second case your brain will most likely first check if there’s a ticked box and then it will check word “disabled” and then calculate “disabled is enabled so this means that AntiAliasing is disabled”

Here is another bad example with several options:

Not Windowed Screen
AutoRun OFF
Enable Auto-save
Disable Script Debugging
Maximize Screen Automatically
Hide additional information

Better way would be:

Windowed Screen
AutoRun ON
Enable Auto-save
Script Debugging
Maximize Screen Automatically
Show additional information

As you can see, there were 2 options (“auto-save” and “maximize screen”) that were okay, but since the other options were in “negative” way is harder to read those options. In the better solution all options are said in “positive” way which makes it easier and faster for user to understand what he has selected.

Same rule could be said for variable naming: always use positive tense in variables. For example a variable “HideCharacter = True” is bad since as the logic is same as “as hide character is true then show character is false which means character is not shown”. If you would use “ShowCharacter = False” then you could read it as “Show character is false so character is not shown”.

The more variables you have the more complex negative tense makes things.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. One of the most difficult options I had to find in AutoCAD was for the selection of cross-hatches on objects. Someone’s set up was not allowing them to do it, and I had to find the checkbox marked “ignore hatch objects”. I’m not sure if you would specifically consider the word ignore a negative modifier, but I spent a few minutes looking for the option “select hatch objects” and found what they actually used counter-intuitive, so I definitely think this is a helpful hint to point out to anyone designing interfaces and menus.

  2. For example: “AntiAlias Enabled” reads better as just “AntiAliasing”, with the checkbox telling the rest of the story, whether it’s checked or unchecked. Same with “auto-save” and “script debugging”.

    Yes, I actually pondered whether to use that “enabled” or “ON” at all, but to make clear that “no negative” should be used I thought to leave those words there in most cases. In “script debugging” I left that away.

  3. You’re so right, I often stumbled across options like this and thought “oh man, why so complicated when it could be a lot easier”.

    Also, for question boxes, it’s extremely bad if they are written in a negative way, so you have to click “no” instead of “yes”, and everyone knows that question boxes are often read in a rush or even not at all. Then you click the wrong answer immediately and afterwards you think “damn” ;)

  4. Yes, usability often flies in the face of “challenge” Designing a challenging game with good UI can be tricky because it requires two opposing mindsets. I believe this is why it’s really rare you see good tutorials in games (including my own), the tutorial is trying to do such a good job at explaining things that the challenge of removed.

    For a lot of your examples, it’s even better to remove the “positiveness” itself.

    For example: “AntiAlias Enabled” reads better as just “AntiAliasing”, with the checkbox telling the rest of the story, whether it’s checked or unchecked. Same with “auto-save” and “script debugging”.

  5. I bet the users enjoy the challenge of figuring out what the options really say. :D
    Beats sudoku any day!

    And, I just joined mybloglog.

  6. Lovely tip. Do this naturally at the moment (positive naming), but didn’t always – so a good tip for people that still do :-)

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