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I'm working on web site in which a "ribbon" submenu pops up as soon as the mouse touches one of the main menu items. I'm trying to explain to the designer that it should wait until the cursor has rested on the menu item, and not pop up when the mouse just happens to pass over it. I'm not sure how long (in milliseconds) that wait should be.

I can't link to the web site in question, but I figure the same principle applies to standard tool tips. How long should it take for a tool tip to pop up?

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Just stumbled upon this old question. The site was Looks like the ribbon is still there as of this writing and they do have a delay. :) – Patrick McElhaney Oct 29 '15 at 14:45
up vote 9 down vote accepted

I couldn't find any conventions on this matter, but I found a couple of libraries where the tooltip seems to be set at a default of 500ms, which seems quite reasonable.

Anyway, I think you should go from there and tweak it until it feels right. You can try it out with a few users and evaluate their feedback.

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This is an appeal to authority with no evidence that those library authors are particularly good at UX, or how they decided on their defaults. – IMSoP Feb 24 '15 at 11:49
For what is worth, after revisiting my answer, I don't even think this is correct. Whatever approaches to delay=0 I think is better. But again, this is backed up only by my own experience and knowledge on the topic. – Ignacio Feb 25 '15 at 12:41
There are no magic numbers, but I found that a delay of 250-350 ms makes sense - specifically when you want to allow users to copy text from a tooltip. It's enough time to allow users to mouseover the tooltip before it slips away but not too much time that it becomes confusing (the 'un-hover' action can easily be linked by users to the tooltip being hidden) – Shahar Dekel Mar 17 at 14:03

IF you fade the tool-tip in slowly you can start as soon as the mouse rests on the hot-spot. Just remember to cancel the animation when the mouse moves out that way if the mouse only slides over for a second the tool-tip wont show and if the user stops but then moves on you don't have a tool-tip showing on the wrong part of the page.

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If the decision to use a tooltip is well thought-out and the tooltip is useful and important. Do not put a delay on it.

A delay can add confusion, you don't want the user asking the same question you are asking here as they are using your site or app.

If you think the tooltip information is not mandatory but might help a user if they get stuck then use a small question mark icon and let them click on that if they need more information.

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There is, of course, always an option to make it click based. I think that would actually work better and make the application universally usable (mobiles&tablets).

There's also a project in JavaScript which you could take for an inspiration in this field, the hoverIntent project


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