Where have all the labels gone…

It can be fun to compare well-made cars to good software. This is an apt comparison. Slip into a nice car and just look around. Notice how few labels there are? Very few controls in a car have labels. Crazy! Their function, instead, is identified by location and perhaps an icon.  This is a classic representations of minimalism. Jony Ive, Apple’s guru of design, would say, “If it is not essential, it’s just shouldn’t be there”. Great design is not about packing lots of buttons and features into a solution, rather it is the elimination of those things not critical to its essential core.

 

Next, step into your own kitchen, or even better, the kitchen of a friend. Notice how, by merely standing in one place, you can fairly accurately predict where the silverware is kept. The location of glasses, plates, canned goods, and pans are also highly predictable. And yet, I would guess that not a single drawer or cupboard has a label on it! Indeed, you would probably chuckle if you walked into a kitchen with labels on each drawer and cupboard. Labels are just not needed for the familiar.

Now, lets go back to our favorite topic, pest control software. Much software has labels everywhere! And yet, if the software is laid out carefully, the use of labels in many cases is superfluous. The key here is the layout and proximity of the objects can often eliminate the need for some labels. Think back to that new car. Objects in cars don’t need labels because they are carefully placed in obvious locations. Good software is the same. An occasional icon or graphic for a hint is all that is often needed. We can’t eliminate all labels, but working toward the elimination of many labels is the mark of better software.

In PestaRoo, we carefully place the primary content on each major layout to be in the top third. This special space is even delineated by two types of gradients and a separation lines. We want you to quickly recognize this data as that which is most important. We call this the ‘primary content’ area, and we try to use as few labels here as possible. Of course, we do supply tool-tips to help new user with mouse-over info. Because be looking at the existing data, such as city or state, it is obvious what data is found in each field. Tool tips add clarity when needed. Going back to a kitchen, what if the cupboards had no doors? You would be able to find where things go with even more ease.  Fields, with data, are like open cupboards.

A new software technique quickly gaining in popularity is called ‘Place Holder Text’. When a field is empty with no data, the field’s name appears inside the field in light gray. This is a neat new trick that avoids the eye-chatter of external labels, yet provides guidance, on new empty records.

We need to build layouts with thoughtful consideration. For at the least the ‘primary content’ information, labels won’t be needed if the design is carefully thought out. Again, think of your car and kitchen cupboards.

Why worry about labels? For the ‘primary content’ on most layouts, they are not only superfluous, they are visually distracting. And, they have a very real cost to your eyes. Among well-trained software developers they are called “eye chatter”. “Eye chatter” is any object on a layout that distracts your eyes from the primary information to be conveyed in a glance. Look at the operation system of a modern iPhone, and you will see very few labels. Icons, yes, but labels almost never. This is because the ease of glances is diminished by adding labels. Good software means more icons and fewer labels.

Well-designed software strives to provide you with the information you need within a glance. Reducing eye chatter and increasing white-space, is part of the process and raising the overall quality of any software package. Eliminating labels that are not needed, is a key step in this journey.