Button Labels

I was recently in a discussion about labels on buttons. In the good old days, a button had a beveled look and sported a nice RGB(192,192,192) background. It “afforded” clicking, they said.

Today a “button” can be a piece of text with no border at all, it can be an image, an area on an image. Sometimes you need to click it, and sometimes you just need to move your cursor over it. People seem to understand that elements can be clicked, so clearly people are quite capable of understanding when something is clickable.

One thing that I have come across quite a few times is that the label needs to be almost a sentence. Even though very few sites actually do that, I often get the suggestion that the label should not be “files” but “show files”, or “open” should be “open file”, “checkout” should be “go to checkout”. I understand that people who have NEVER used the Internets before (its a series of pipes), would not understand the idea that you need to click a button to do something.

And when you are focusing just on that one button it doesn’t seem to add much clutter. But when ALL buttons have a long description it just becomes very messy, and difficult to navigate.

While it certainly is possible to design applications that cater to the n00b’s and the 1337’s, you usually have to make a choice and then stick with it. If you decide to cater to n00b’s then you make choices that punish the 1337’s and Vice Versa. But picking you target audience, and catering to them is usually a lot better than aiming for both. Don’t shoot rabbits with bear ammo, and don’t try to shoot at a bear with the rabbit gun either.

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