The Double-Click

It’s been around, probably, since the dawn of the mouse. The double-click has become synonymous with “open”. The purpose of the double-click is to allow one to do two things with the same button. So far this has meant that single-click selects, double-click opens. It’s worked so well and has become so prevalent that it’s been a while since anyone thought it could be different. Even so, I’ll bet my mouse that we won’t be double-clicking in 5 years.

The last serious attempt at an alternative was Internet Explorer 4. When installed, it changed the entire Windows interface into something akin to a web-browser. That meant underlining filenames and adding single click opening. Files were selected by hovering over them for a second or two. While it worked as intended, it was just a little bit slower than the double-click method—enough for people to turn it off. That said, the ability to switch on single-click remains in Windows today (( Click Tools > Folder Options > Single-click )).

With the advent of mobile computing, the mouse is on the way out. Touch screen interfaces such as those seen in Microsoft’s Surface, Apple’s iPhone and countless PDAs have demonstrated that we can do without the mouse. Additionally, the double click was really only invented to allow single-click to select. In the future, managing files will just not be a common computer task. Clicking twice in rapid succession while holding the cursor still is just not that intuitive.

In time, gestures will take over. Smart interfaces will eliminate the tedious tasks that made double-click useful. Count on it.

This is my interface design time capsule. What’s yours?

11 thoughts on “The Double-Click”

  1. Chris says:

    While I agree that interfaces will change, and have changed, they won’t become commonplace for some time yet to come. It’s akin to jet-packs and flying cars. There are still people out there that haven’t mastered the single/double click methodology. Expecting the world to switch from a barely mastered mouse to Minority Report hand/finger movements is asking a great deal.

    These things will come with time, of course. But, it will take a lot of time. It’s easy to see a few million people using and mastering the iPhone interface but the “big ass table” will take a bit more time.

    Lastly there’s something to be said for an interface that doesn’t need improvement. I’m not saying keyboard and mouse are perfect but they’re damn near. We run the risk of inventing new interfaces for everything that are only needed for a single new problem.

    This is all becoming rather jumbled and the phone just rang so.. I’ll pester you via IM later.

    Check your footnotes. There’s a footnote with no reference.

  2. Joen says:

    Expecting the world to switch from a barely mastered mouse to Minority Report hand/finger movements is asking a great deal.

    So we agree, just not on the timeframe of 5 years?

    Do you see yourself working behind a traditional computer setup in 5 years? I don’t. When you think about it, it’s not really that practical. Keyboard, mouse, screen, pen possibly?

    It?s easy to see a few million people using and mastering the iPhone interface but the ?big ass table? will take a bit more time.

    How about the Wacom Cintiq ?

    Lastly there?s something to be said for an interface that doesn?t need improvement. I?m not saying keyboard and mouse are perfect but they?re damn near. We run the risk of inventing new interfaces for everything that are only needed for a single new problem.

    I disagree. The mouse chains you to a desk, it needs a flat surface that’s ideally not too reflective. It requires the same repeated movements of your arm, causing RSI, and when it comes to painting / drawing it just doesn’t work. The mouse is only good for precision movement.

    Check your footnotes. There?s a footnote with no reference.

    Thanks. Fixed.

  3. Noel Hurtley says:

    You raise some interesting points. I think must of us simply take these concepts of interaction for granted.

    I think products like the iPhone will start a revolution in UI design. That’s my bet.

  4. Kevin Cannon says:

    Chris – you mention the difficulty of learning a new touch/gestural interface.

    I’d contend that the whole idea behind these types of innovations is that they’re more direct and more ‘physical’ than a traditional GUI, and results in greater usability benefits because of that.

    I believe that the Microsoft surface example of grabbing an image to rotate and zoom is far more intuitive than what you could achieve with a mouse & buttons.

  5. Joen says:

    I?d contend that the whole idea behind these types of innovations is that they?re more direct and more ?physical? than a traditional GUI, and results in greater usability benefits because of that.

    I agree. We all have intuitive ways of doing tasks. The mouse might feel intuitive today because that’s what we’ve learned to use.

  6. Jeff says:

    This kind of ditches the whole “click to select” concept though. When you’re looking at a simpler phone interface, it is not such a big issue:

    Contacts -> Joen -> Call/Edit/Delete

    Or some variation of that. But if you want to bring in some sort of “select several to delete” you’ve got to work some new menu and dig through another interface to do that.

    Personally, for touch systems you can lose the double-tap to activate because it doesn’t make much sense when you can finally do gesture recognition. However, I’ll hold on to my distinctive difference between selection and activation for more complicated interfaces like the windows ui.

  7. Joen says:

    Or some variation of that. But if you want to bring in some sort of ?select several to delete? you?ve got to work some new menu and dig through another interface to do that.

    Really good point.

    However un-intuitive in itself, the selection rectangle doesn’t require any double click, as such on could still keep that in a single click setup.

  8. Chris says:

    more direct and more ‘physical’ than a traditional GUI

    And what of tactile feedback that everyone views as being so important? And what of usability for the disabled? While there may be great movements ahead for the fully sensed what about the blind? Text to speech is still a long way from being perfect and correct every time.

    There are touch screen ATMs now that have braille instructions that read “Ask someone for help”. And yes, I think for this to become commonplace it has to work for everyone.

    [the mouse] when it comes to painting / drawing it just doesn’t work.

    And a pen, when it comes to filling in a spreadsheet, seems a completely poor idea.

    the selection rectangle doesn’t require any double click

    Why would it be a rectangle? A lasso would make more sense wouldn’t it?

    So we agree, just not on the timeframe of 5 years?

    I agree that the interface will change. I agree that eventually when I want to enter a ton of data into a spreadsheet all I’ll need do is hold the form containing the handwritten data up to the computer’s eye. I agree eventually I’ll be able to reliably walk into a room and say, “Computer, lights, Brahms.. No.. Beethoven, the more softer stuff, read my mail, stow the dishes, put the Newer York Times on the display in the den, I’d like to read today. Tea, Earl Grey hot”

    I’m sure that will happen. Just not as quick as you’d like.

  9. Joen says:

    And what of tactile feedback that everyone views as being so important? And what of usability for the disabled?

    Completely agree. It’s unfair for me to simply say “we won’t be double clicking” when I’m not presenting any serious alternatives, rather than pure conjecture. Tactile feedback and especially usability for the disabled are issues that need fixing, with regards to all the new touch screen stuff. Maybe a redesigned keyboard? (Do we really need the F keys)

    And a pen, when it comes to filling in a spreadsheet, seems a completely poor idea.

    Haha, right on.

    Why would it be a rectangle? A lasso would make more sense wouldn?t it?

    Ooh yeah, especially if you’re using a pen!

    I?m sure that will happen. Just not as quick as you?d like.

    I think you overestimate the usefulness of voice commands 🙂

    I don’t want to go completely on the defensive on this: I was actually “only” saying that we won’t be double-clicking in 5 years. The hover cars will come into play later on.

  10. Chris says:

    (Do we really need the F keys)

    I use F keys rather a bit, actually.

    The hover cars will come into play later on.

    Still, later!? I want it now!

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