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In the research of creating a design standard for touch applications, the size of the average finger pad comes up as an important figure (1cm x 1cm)

But what about the interaction method we have been using for years... the mouse pointer... How big is it?

Some say 48x48, 32x32 or 16x16. These are all in pixels, a size that depends on the pixel density. But of course, if the pixel density changes, the pixel-sized-controls we are supposed to interact with changes as well.

Is this the reason why no one writes about the size? - Because the mouse pointer is a variable compared to our finger pads? In that case, what size is the optimal size?

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The physical size of a touchscreen controls do matter since you can't shrink down your fingers, however the physical size of the mouse pointer is not very relevant, as long as the pointer is not too small to be difficult to see, it will work well. Although one could argue that pointers that is too big will be aesthetically disturbing. A more useful comparison is the size of the actual mouse itself, it will depend on habit and hand size; I know people who preferred laptop mouse size since they have smaller hands while I'm most comfortable with the regular sized mouse. –  Lie Ryan Sep 14 '11 at 11:14
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what's important here is the detection area of the target, not the size of the pointing device, although the research I've seen suggests that the size of the pointing device becomes important when it = some ratio of the detectable area of the target. –  colmcq Sep 14 '11 at 12:29
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Change comment to answer Ryan? :) –  Bluewater Sep 16 '11 at 13:27

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Simply put, mouse pointer size doesn't matter very much besides personal preference.

A finger is only as accurate as it is big. A mouse pointer is always accurate to one pixel even if the display icon for it is larger than that. So the issue of size when talking about a mouse isn't nearly as critical as it is for touch.

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JohnGB is technically correct that in terms of control, the size of the mouse pointer is not as important as for touch. Here are some more points that may be helpful.

Control

The size of the pointer makes no difference to the pointer's control over one pixel of your screen.

Visibility of the Pointer

The larger the pointer, the easier it is to find. This matters most when users are accessing your site on high resolution/large monitors where small cursors are more likely to get lost. It also matters if you are dealing with a noisy/highly colorful background. Here, both the size and the color of the pointer are relevant attributes.

Interference with the background

If the pointer is too big, it will obscure a larger area of the document to the bottom-right of the 'point'. The importance of this depends on your application, but of course in general terms try to avoid putting important information immediately (i.e. within a few pixels) to the bottom-right of a clickable button.

Meeting users' expectations

One could argue that most users are used to a certain range of sizes and colors with respect to mouse pointers (think of the default small white/black Windows and Mac pointers). Unless your site is supposed to be deliberately quirky, bias yourself towards using basic control interfaces that your users are going to be familiar with. You don't want to try to appear original at the expense of annoying some of your users who feel they're being distracted by their own cursor.

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Adding 2 more points to sscirrus:

Accessability

The size of the visible mouse cursor can be changed in current OS, and for a good reason: visually impaired persons will prefer a bigger cursor, even if it hides some of the content behind it. So, if you can, use the size the user specified in his OS preferences.

Context

The size of the cursor can also vary by its usage. I like how Balsamiq uses a big and colored cursor in presentation mode - perfect for many people staring at a screen.

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yes, not all users are 20 years old with perfect visions –  Nikko Sep 18 '11 at 10:39

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