Monday, January 14, 2008

Keyboard Shortcuts: More Than Just yet-another-feature (GMail)

I always loved using shortcuts while working with various desktop UIs. Of course, need for the same was felt while working on Web sites and Web applications too. This requirement was addressed by many leading players in the Webosphere, Google being one of them. However, even with a useful feature such as, shortcuts, there are troubles. Keyboard shortcuts are very useful and increase the work efficiency by a profound degree UNLESS you need not remember them.
Working with different user interfaces, remembering different shortcuts for each one becomes a real hassle. As a result, you end up not utilizing this extra-ordinary feature. As a solution to this problem, various UIs help the user remember the shortcuts by:
  • Showing the quick tips : which are sometimes annoying too, but sometimes, very useful.
  • Mentioning the shortcuts (keyboard equivalanet) next to the commands/links/buttons, or relevant places in the UI : which is not always possible because many commands as appearing on the UI don't have enough UI space to accommodate a shortcut text.
  • Displaying a quick map of keyboard shortcuts: The map of keyboard shortcuts is just one shortcut away, which one can easily remember. An ideal example of this approach can be seen on GMail. It is definitely done brilliantly, the Google way. You can view the following screenshot to view how useful this approach can be:

You can view this shortcut-keystroke map by pressing, SHIFT+?, and then you can make it disappear and return to your original view by simply clicking anywhere outside the appearing chart of shortcuts and keystroke combinations.

This unconventional way of helping the users exploit this less-used yet very useful feature, Keyboard shortcuts, is definitely worth trying out. And, who knows how efficiently this improves your working experience with GMail.

Information source:
Official Gmail Blog: '?' answers your shortcut questions

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