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My speaker has 3 physical buttons in this order:

  1. volume down
  2. volume up
  3. mute

I find the order quite illogical, I would expect:

  1. volume up
  2. volume down
  3. mute

enter image description here enter image description here

Is there any convention on the order of such buttons that the manufacturer should have followed?

EDIT: What we see is top horizontal face of the speaker, the minus button is closest to the front face while the mute button is furthest from the front face (thus from the user).

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We are all creatures of learned conventions, we read from top to bottom, left to right (West), think of things such as bar graphs as growing toward the right (if laying down) and up (if standing) and as people we grow "up". There are more examples than these but looking at these things we can infer that your statement is correct. There is probably great research and lots of background history on the topic of how we read increase or growth in things or how we perceive something to be more or less, but I don't have that link to share. –  JeroenEijkhof Mar 5 '12 at 16:58
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~aims for +, hits mute by accident. Aims for unmute, hits + by accident. Hits unmute, BLAST OF NOISE~ Much harder with physical buttons as in the image, but I have done it to myself before. I think mute/unmute and volume down should always be next to each other... –  Izkata Mar 5 '12 at 19:15
    
I think I'd have put the mute (with what appears to be an indicator light) in its own separated recess and moved it a bit further away from the volume control recess. The mute button would also be better if it clicked down for on / clicked up for off. –  PhillipW Mar 5 '12 at 21:57
    
Gas rings are like this, but that's so you can have a low flame without cutting off the gas altogether. That consideration possibly doesn't apply in this case. –  TRiG Mar 7 '12 at 21:25

8 Answers 8

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The important thing here is the order of up and down; it only makes sense that up is above down when aligned vertically.

The position of the mute button is less important as it's a separate control while volume up/down is usually seen as two parts of one control. For example on the iPad the "Mute" control (which doubles as Rotation Lock) is above the volume controls.

As long as it's a physically and conceptually distinct control it's "order" doesn't matter so much, since you're not going to press left instead of right or up instead of down; in your example you can feel that you're using the mute button vs the volume rocker.

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I value your opinion. –  daniel.sedlacek Mar 5 '12 at 16:30

I agree it's a bit off, I'd have the mute button under the minus, as I consider it the minus all the way button. I would also have a full volume button above the plus, if there was one. This is the same as on trends or graphs where you have the buttons in order left to right: go to the start of data logging, go back a little, go forward a little, go to right now.

I partly agree with Ben Brocka about the different feel of the button and rocker making them distinct but if you were jabbing it with a stick or if it were GUI then that wouldn't matter.

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I'd say that if this wasn't completely random, that the reason why the designer would have picked this configuration is that it would be more urgent to lower volume than to higher it. Thus, as soon as you touch volume control, you're landing on the lower volume button. If you switched the speaker on and it was blasting music, it's more urgent not to disturb than it is to higher the volume.

Also, seeing that the lower volume button is most likely the first button a user will touch, cases of error (pressing the button by accident while wanting press the others) is less severe than the higher button.

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There's quite a lot on this kind of thing in Don Norman's The Design of Everyday Things - much of it to do with how buttons are 'grouped'.

Having seen it with the extra photo 'Up Volume' is further away from the user - which is a sort of convention.

One issue I'd have with the actual design is that it cannot be operated easily by 'feel' - the control button itself could be wider at one end than another to signify 'increasing'.

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The important thing about the mute button is that should be located so that it is not accidentally pressed when the user intends to press the volume buttons. Less importantly, it should be near the volume down button.

If the volume controls are vertically up should be above and down below. Depending on the expected use, mute could be either above or below.

If the volume controls are horizontally, left to right, up should be to the right and down should be to the left. Mute should usually be to the left.

If the volume controls are horizontally, towards and away from the user, down should be towards the user and up should be away from the user. Mute should usually be away from the user.

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You cite that the buttons "should be to the right / left". What are you basing these statements on? Are they just your personal opinion, or have you something more concrete that you are able to share with us? –  JonW Mar 5 '12 at 17:00

In this situation I refer to my iPhone. I don't thing anyone has done more HCI research than apple.

iPhone: Mute Switch Volume Up Volume Down

Realize that on the iPhone the switches are all vertical so it makes sense that UP is at the top and DOWN at the bottom. But look at the Mac keyboards

Mac Keyboards: Mute Volume Down Volume Up

Here we have a horizontal layout so the volume UP controls are to the furthers right, as we are a LtoR culture going right signifies an increase so UP is furthest right and DOWN comes first.

As for mute it is always placed BEFORE the volume controls depending on the orientation of the buttons.

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I have updated the position of the buttons on the speaker. It looks to me it does not match the keyboard example, what do you think? –  daniel.sedlacek Mar 5 '12 at 16:11
    
If the Minus button is at the speaker front (the part that the noise come out) I would expect Mute to be first, then volume up, then down. Mute first because the idea of having it before all is that you might need quick access to shut it up to answer a call etc. then your controls is the order of increasing need to direction of hand movement –  James Wilkinson Mar 5 '12 at 16:23

That does make sense , even Mac as volume up , down and mute. This works naturally which is why most devices follow this convention.

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You make a valid point here. I agree, the manufacturer probably should have made the volume up/down buttons first, and then the mute button. For example, on most (if not all) TV remotes, you can find the volume control buttons a ton faster than the mute button. Another aspect would be to look at the Windows 7 (and possibly before) volume control. The slider (equivalent to the up/down buttons) is above the mute button. Again, a very interesting question, and I hope this helps!

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