I used to jog 5 miles a day. Then I found a short cut.

The first few times I used Balsamiq Mockups for creating wire-frames, I navigated through the File menu to export the wire-frames to images. Each time I did this, I noticed the [Ctrl+R] short-cut displayed right next to the ‘Export to PNG image’ menu. As I began to use the export feature more often, I moved away from using the File menu and began to export by just pressing [Ctrl+R] on the keyboard.

Accelerators — unseen by the novice user — may often speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the system can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.

Advanced users use systems differently from novice users. As novice users get acquainted with the system and perform certain tasks frequently, the system should be able to let those frequently performed tasks be accessible more efficiently.

Systems should have “accelerators” that help advanced users perform the most frequently used tasks efficiently. Accelerators include:

  1. Short-cuts for frequently used tasks; Open, save, close, export, etc.
  2. Keyboard navigation; navigating through an online photo album using the arrows on the keyboard.
  3. Breadcrumbs; they let the users know where they currently are and let them easily navigate to a preceding page instead of having to recall from memory where they were previously.
  4. Context menu; frequently used tasks can be placed in the context menu (Right-click in Windows, Ctrl-mouse click in Mac OS, long press on mobile devices)
Start Page in Microsoft Visual Studio

The Start page in Microsoft’s Visual Studio. When Visual Studio is launched, it opens with a start page which displays the list of recently opened projects and this lets the user open recent projects very efficiently.


Property Inspector in Balsamiq Mockups

The Property Inspector in Balsamiq Mockup. The property inspector is displayed when an object is selected in the canvas and it allows users to easily access common editing functions.


Personalized delivery works best for systems where users log in to the system to use it, and is a great way to increase flexibility and efficiency of the system. Users could be shown information based on their past history with the system. For example, the system could remember users settings, show them a list of their recently performed tasks, make a list of their most frequently used tasks easily available, and filter the information to what interests them the most.

Allow users to tailor frequently used actions. For example, Microsoft Word provides a customizable quick access toolbar. Experienced Word Users can add commands that they frequently use to the quick access toolbar thereby increasing their accessibility and efficiency of use.


UI Changes
When the user interface for a system requires changes, it is best to to keep the user interface and accelerators as close as possible to the original one. This avoids having the users re-learn everything they know about the original system. I could not think of a better example than Facebook for not following this. Every time they changed their user interface I got so frustrated trying to find my way around the site. When I could not take it any longer, I just quit using it.


In the end
Advanced users should be given the ability to quickly navigate through the site and perform their tasks efficiently. Though figuring out a short-cut to your 5 mile jog might not ultimately benefit your workout session, when it comes to computer systems, providing accelerators and engaging users in a personal way would be incredibly useful to them.

One Response to Usability Heuristics – Part 7 – Flexibility and efficiency of use

  1. silver says:

    That’s what i’m missing in many new programs nowadays.

    Worst example: Microsoft Windows 7. Why they are removing the toolbar in the windows explorer? This is just one example.

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