100 Things You Should Know About People: #83 — People Will Use Shortcuts Only If They Are Easy

road signDo you use keyboard shortcuts when you are typing on the computer? Do you have some you use, but not others? For example, as I’ve been writing my new book on my computer, I use the keyboard shortcuts for cut and paste about 100 times a day. But I never use the keyboard shortcut to save my file. I always take my hands off the keyboard and use the trackpad to move my cursor up to the Save icon in the toolbar, and then click on save. Why do I do that?

People will look for ways to do something faster and with less steps — This is especially true if it is a task they are doing over and over. But if the shortcut is too hard to find, or if a habit is ingrained, then people will keep doing it the old way. This seems paradoxical, but it’s all about the amount of perceived work. If it seems like too much work to find a shortcut, then people will stay with their old habits.

Defaults can reduce the amount of work needed to complete a task — When you provide defaults, for example, filling in the person’s name and address automatically on a web form, then there is less work to finish the form. There are some potential problems with defaults. One is that people don’t always notice defaults, and so may end up accepting a default without meaning to.  Here again, the answer lies in the amount of effort. If it takes a lot of work to change the result of accepting a “wrong” default, then think twice about using them in your design.

When defaults create more, not less, work — Recently I bought a pair of shoes for my daughter online. The next time I went to the website was to buy a pair of shoes for myself. But the default shipping address was the last address used – my daughter’s, not mine. I didn’t notice that the shipping address had filled in with a default that was not my home address. My daughter was surprised to get a pair of shoes she didn’t ask for (in a style she definitely did not want to wear, and a size that wasn’t hers). In this case, having a default meant a lot more work for both my daughter and myself.

Are there shortcuts you could take but don’t? Are there times when defaults have gotten you in trouble?

100 Things You Should Know About People: #84 -- Average Time To Form A Habit Is 66 Days
100 Things You Should You Know About People: #82 -- People Are Motivated By Progress And Mastery

6 Replies to “100 Things You Should Know About People: #83 — People Will Use Shortcuts Only If They Are Easy”

  1. We used to see this a lot in the world of educational technology – you have to make sure that there isn’t a way to get through the exercise without actually learning, because if there’s a way, the kids will find it! ;)

  2. One exception to this: designers and Ctrl+Alt+Shift+S in Photoshop. It’s pretty much acrobatics with your left hand, yet we keep using it because it saves time.

  3. Yes, people only use simple shortcuts but also, they cana only rememeber a small number of them. I think most people only know and regularly use 2 – 5 shortcuts per software product and rely on using the mouse for all other functions. If people could learn a few more, then surely their productivity would increase.

    This subject is one close to my heart and I recently started a website that stores thousands of keyboard shortcuts to try to help people get faster and more productive with the software they use regularly. It’s getting quite popular but there is room for improvment and I hope to add new features soon.

    The site is called http://shortcutkeys.org/ and any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

  4. I think the points made in this article are shortsighted. Just because you don’t use the save command doesn’t mean that it’s any harder than the paste command. I can assume the author hasn’t been using computers all her life which means that using a computer isn’t as natural to her as it would be to a 20-something or even a teenager. Most people that have used a computer for most of their life use–and know how to find–shortcuts as much as possible. I don’t know any undergrad students who are clicking the save icon instead of using the shortcut.

    The example of how defaults can create more work is hugely ignorant. If you’re paying attention, then it doesn’t create any additional work. Instead of sending the order to your daughter, you’d have had to put in your address, which, if you had never gone to the site before, you’d have had to do anyway. So really, the only extra work is getting the item shipped from the wrong address to the right address, and that’s on you, not the company that tried to make your life easier.

    Please don’t blame a site’s helpful features for a user’s lack of attention to detail.

    Perhaps the article should be titled “People will use shortcuts only if they’re comfortable using them and other obvious facts about human nature.”

    I’m sorry to look like a troll or whatever, but these kinds of pointless articles do nothing but misinform people.

  5. Susan,
    I guess that I’m not sure how you developed the habit of clicking a ‘save’ icon instead of using a shortcut if you’ve been using computers for 45 years. Wouldn’t all those years of using IBMs and such have engrained shortcuts into your muscle memory since mainstream computing hadn’t embraced the mouse–and certainly not trackpads (1990s)–until 1981 (or arguably 1984, with the release of the Macintosh)?

    I feel it’s lazy to acknowledge a commenter’s points but not refute the points in any way or update the article to reflect that you may have oversimplified the situation. I also find it odd that a UX professional would resist doing something that she knows is better (faster?) than how she already does it.

    I understand that you don’t have to answer my questions or comments as this is your soap box, I’m just saddened that people come here and read your words and may be simply accepting them and spreading them without thinking about them. Your article is short, and simple, which is very dangerous, because you don’t disclaim that you’re speaking from your experience, not from your expertise. You haven’t applied any psychology here, you just stated that you’re unwilling to use the ‘save’ shortcut and that you don’t proofread orders before clicking ‘submit’ and then made generalizations about people because of how you are.

  6. Well, I’m using computers for 19 years and also use the mouse for saving work. It’s a question of habit i guess, but the idea is right to dificult shortkuts or hard to remember are not used.

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