Usability of the ToolBar

The first version of yaTimer had just one button in the toolbar, the version after that had 4, the latest version has five and the next version will add two or three more for a total of seven or eight.

While eight toolbar buttons are still much less then what you’ll find in most applications yaTimer is designed to be able to run in a very small window – and there is just not enough space for 8 buttons in a small window.

I can think of four simple ways to deal with this problem:

The first is to never add toolbar buttons, while this effectively prevents the problem it’s not really an option, all the other flawed ways I’m going to describe are still better than having no quick access the software’s features at all.

The second option is to make the buttons smaller, reduce spacing and remove separators.

That option is something I can actually do now, but I cannot continue this strategy for long, reducing button size to allow eight buttons isn’t so bad, but what about a 9th button I may want to add the next version?

The third option is to make the toolbar extend downward, if there isn’t space on the first row of buttons just add a second row, this may sound nice that it will make the toolbar take up space that is now used to actually show information, and what’s the point in running in a small window if the little space you have is taken up by toolbars?

The fourth and final option is actually built into the toolbar control, when there isn’t enough space for all buttons you can click on a tiny arrow that doesn’t look like a button on the far right corner of the toolbar, this will open a small popup with all the extra buttons in it (the picture is from Microsoft Visual Studio 2005).

picture of a toolbar with open overflow panel

If you look at the picture it’s difficult to understand what’s going on there – and that’s exactly the point, this toolbar feature is not very discoverable and not very convenient, you have to click on the tiny decoration at the end of the toolbar and you will be rewarded with a palette of tiny unlabeled icons that change position based on your current window size.

I think this feature first appeared in Microsoft Office about ten years ago and it’s possible that by now everyone knows what to do with the little arrow on the toolbar’s decorative frame, but I suspect only techies know about that and that normal people never figure it out and just look for the button somewhere else.

The sentence “The easiest way to track your time” is part of the yaTimer logo – and I really mean it, I don’t want to put new features of my software behind a difficult to use wall.

Does anyone have any advice for me? Any ideas of how to extend the toolbar in an easy to use way?

posted @ Thursday, March 27, 2008 3:58 PM

Comments on this entry:

# re: Usability of the ToolBar

Left by Ryan J Ollos at 4/1/2008 5:27 PM

Hi Nir,

I think that, of all the options you presented, extending the toolbar downward is the best option. The runner-up is the pop-up with additional buttons, but I generally find these to be a bit annoying.

In addition, it would be nice if you could allow customization of the buttons that are displayed on the toolbar.

I never use the following buttons:
* Start This Task, Continue Running Other Tasks.
* Reset This Task.
* Move Up / Move Down (Rather, I drag the tasks around).

If I had the option of selecting which buttons are displayed on the toolbar, such as through a configuration menu with a set of checkboxes, I would opt to hide those buttons from the toolbar on my installation.

- Ryan

# re: Usability of the ToolBar

Left by Ken at 5/12/2008 11:58 AM

Hi Nir,
I may be late with my comment, but anyone who uses any adobe software is certainly familiar with the little tiny arrow to drop down more options.

Or what if the menu dropped down on mouseover just like normal website navigation. Then there could be logical groupings of buttons and no one would have to click a little tiny arrow, just mouseover to see other choices.

And thanks to Ryan... I didn't even realize you could drag the tasks up and down the list... I should have tried that... and it will be the method I use.

Re: all the other buttons, I find that I usually only hit the reset from within the report page because that is typically when I invoice the time, and then I reset and make a note.

So, for what it's worth, there are my thoughts. I still find it very easy to use, and that is good.

And I like the idea of customizing toolbars also.

Thanks for the good work!

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