Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Case Against Caption Icons

I avoid using Caption Icons in sheet Objects. I prefer to teach users to right-click to access the same functionality. In V10, there is also the option to use a  "Menu" caption icon that provides the same options as right-click.

Here are my arguments for not using caption icons that duplicate the functionality available in right-click.

Note: I realize there are some limitations in the Ajax client prior to V9 that may require icons. My comments are directed at V9+.


  1. The redundancy and visual clutter waste screen space and distract from the data. If you are a fan of Edward Tufte's work, you'll recognize this as "low Data-ink ratio" and "Chartjunk".
  2. They deemphasize icons that may be unique and important to a specific chart. These are things you want the user to notice, for example Help or Fast Change.
  3. They force the designer to display a Caption even when a Caption is not desirable for the layout.
  4. They keep users ignorant of the full power available, leading them to believe that they are limited to the functions offered by the displayed icons. Have you ever received a change request like "Please add the export to Excel function to chart X so we can export it."?
  5. Also on the ignorance theme, users don't become aware of new functionality if you don't add the new icons.
Comments and counter arguments welcome. 

-Rob