Captivate 5: Confusing toolbar icons

December 7, 2010

I’ve been using computers and software since the mid-1980s, and have worked in the software industry since 1992. I’ve worked with all sorts of software, both as a user and as a technical writer for niche market software, including working for companies that made graphics software, including 2D to 3D movie conversion software and 3D visualization geological modeling graphics software.

So I’ve seen quite a few toolbar icons in my time.

But I’ve never seen toolbar icons quite like these in Adobe’s Captivate :

I must have tried to click on the pencil and bucket icons 20+ times, to no avail. I hovered over those icons, expecting a tooltip to tell me what they were for. Nada. There were tooltips for the swatches but not the icons. I figured that I needed to select something (but what?) to activate these icons. And I was frustrated enough to go looking on Adobe’s website to find out what they were for and how to activate them (http://help.adobe.com/en_US/captivate/cp/using/WSc1b83f70210cd10115eb45e11c8969986e-8000.html).

Well, they can’t be activated! They are actually paired with the swatch below each icon. Who knew?

I have never seen icons paired like that — typically, you’d either have the pencil (stroke) and bucket (fill) icons only, OR slightly smaller pencil and bucket icons combined with a small swatch in the same plane. Clicking on the swatch opens the color selection panel for the relevant stroke or fill, but they could’ve opened that panel just with the icon. If the current color needs to be shown, then why not a much smaller square? Perhaps something like this:

People think in patterns and they expect a certain amount of familiarity in how a toolbar icon behaves — you click it and something happens. If something doesn’t happen, it’s possible that you have to do something else before you can click it. And if you’re not sure, you can always hover over the icon and get a tooltip giving you some information about what it does. They were MY expectations. Not unreasonable expectations, I would’ve thought, especially based on my almost 20 years experience in the software industry. But these icons didn’t behave in a familiar way. They didn’t follow the pattern I expected, and as a result they caused me quite a bit of frustration — and this blog post.

[Link last checked December 2010]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: