Abuse of radio buttons and check boxes

I’m particularly sensitive to interface design and I saw a real horror this week. [The] BCS1 recently conducted a members’ survey. Question six managed to break the long established model of radio buttons (select one) and check boxes (select more than one).

I guess they wanted to make sure that people had answered the question so required a ‘none’ option. If you selected this radio button it used some JavaScript to clear any of check boxes you’d previously selected.

One of the best bits of interface design advice I ever heard was from Jakob Nielsen. In his list of Top Ten Mistakes it is number eight.

Consistency is one of the most powerful usability principles: when things always behave the same, users don’t have to worry about what will happen. Instead, they know what will happen based on earlier experience. Every time you release an apple over Sir Isaac Newton, it will drop on his head. That’s good.

The more users’ expectations prove right, the more they will feel in control of the system and the more they will like it. And the more the system breaks users’ expectations, the more they will feel insecure. Oops, maybe if I let go of this apple, it will turn into a tomato and jump a mile into the sky.

It’s important that any application or website uses mental models that people are familiar with. In security you’re often asking a critical question, and that’s all you want the user to think about, not a newly invented or misapplied design metaphor.

1Formerly the British Computer Society, it has recently become “bcs – The Chartered Institute for IT” and is no longer referred to as “The BCS”.

One thought on “Abuse of radio buttons and check boxes

  1. XC

    I’m kind of impressed – usually design tools make it somewhere between hard and impossible to do stuff like that.

    So this cat wrote code to catch the “none” and uncheck the other boxes and code to catch a check and set “none” to 0. And since if you set one radio button to 0 it usually requires you to set another to 1 he had to catch that too. Neat.


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