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There comes cases where it's quite obvious that users are most likely to copy and paste a value into a given text-box. One of those cases is a URL fields.

This made me thinking of adding a paste button next to the text field, to allow pasting a string from the clipboard right with just a simple click. Although redundant to the right-click + "Paste" and to the Ctrl+V shortcut, it seems to have much more affordance, discoverability, and speed (if you happen to arrive at the form with only the mouse in your hands).

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I know I saw some real examples of such a button somewhere, but I can't seem to find them (help would be appreciated here).


  1. Do you have any evidence this actually enhances usability?
  2. If it does, why isn't it more common?
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If it's clear it most likely will, but having the icon inside the text field seems confusing. –  JohnGB Apr 4 '13 at 17:03
Not to be nitpicking, but affordance is a physical design idea (especially if you're following norman's definition). For digital interfaces you use cues/skeuomorphs. If you look at the link you posted you will find no association of affordance with digital design. –  rk. Apr 4 '13 at 17:07
My hunch is that such a button would be quite handy on touch screens (where right-click or Ctrl+V aren't available), but I don't have any empirical evidence of this. –  3nafish Apr 4 '13 at 17:43
No data, just musings: I like the idea because it reminds users they can copy&paste. It adds visual complexity, however, and if the meaning is not obvious to a user, behavior could be quite confusing (clicking it - nothing happens, or letter to grandma gets inserted) - a tooltip should help here. –  peterchen Apr 5 '13 at 11:50
I would rather have an all-text button in such a situation rather than an icon-based one. It's more direct. It's more likely to be clicked. –  Mohit Apr 5 '13 at 12:19
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6 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Yes, this will improve efficiency. For desktop users, it will mean that users who are not yet in position to use the keyboard will be able to proceed without delay (which reduces your GOMS or KLM score). For touch users, it means that the user does not have to rely on the often rather fiddly native text paste controls.

That being said, I am unsure about your current design - paste icons can be ambiguous, so a plain text button might be superior.

As for your second question, there are two reasons this pattern is rarely seen. Firstly, on desktop applications, forms are less common than on the web; and secondly, on the web, copy and pasting is hard for the page to provide because most browsers do not expose the clipboard to JavaScript.

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Granted using a special button to paste will have a visual indicator of the action. The following things should be considered:

  • What happens when you have nothing on your clipboard? Is it greyed out/Is it invisible?

  • If you're changing the state of the button based on the availability of the paste option, then you have to notify it to the user that the state of the button has changed. However you do this, you are asking for the users attention, which IMO is not needed for a trivial copy-paste action.

  • If you want to do this, you have to think of consistency, you cannot have the user copying stuff using keyboard/menu and then expect them to use a button for pasting. So, you need to have a different button for copying stuff too.

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+1 for suggesting that it should be disabled when there's nothing on the clipboard, although I completely disagree with your third point: that "you cannot have the user copying" the URL without a corresponding button; the user could easily have copied the URL from a browser, which is outside your control. –  3nafish Apr 4 '13 at 17:46
What I meant is, since the actions are a pair, the interaction should be the same on both the parts. Using a button to copy the selection and using a button to paste in the position. –  rk. Apr 4 '13 at 17:59
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It mostly depends on how users first copied the URL.

Processing new UI controls always impacts the UX. Giving your users the same options for copying and pasting won't increase the cognitive load, which is what really matters. Also, by having similar input methods you also reduce the number of physical mouse/keyboard combination changes, which is usually painful for users.

ctrl+c, ctrl+v

copy icon, paste icon

right click copy, right click paste

Since it is unlikely that users will copy an URL using a similar icon, I think this icon fits under the "nice to have" UI control category.

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In this scenario you really have to consider precedent. Text fields are prevalent over all sorts of devices and interfaces and none of them have special paste buttons.

I think it's safe to assume that users of your program will know how to use text boxes, and if they figured out how to copy something to the clipboard, they can most likely figure out how to paste it again.

So I would argue the paste button is unnecessary clutter. In fact I would argue that adding a paste button would actually detract from the usability of the interface, because it would confuse (or at the very least distract) users.

That said, I've seen some pretty nifty interfaces that will actually default the content of a form based on what is on the clipboard when the form is loaded (specifically I'm thinking of Cornerstone 2's Add Repository dialog). In practice, I find it quite handy. But note that in this particular case, the content of the clipboard needs to be a URL pointing to an SVN repository in some recognized format (it won't just blindly populate the form based on whatever is on the clipboard).

Cornerstone 2's Add Repository dialog, pre-populated from the clipboard

In your case, since the text field is to input a URL, you could easily determine if the contents of the clipboard is a URL and default it to that. Chances are that would be a handy addition.

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I don't know for sure. It will need testing (as most things UX). However, I doubt that it will improve your usability. A URL field will most likely be copied from a location bar in a browser. There is no way to not copy those using the shortcut keys in modern browsers. So, users will be familiar with the feature of using copy/paste using the keyboard. Furthermore, basically all textboxes accept pasting in text, so it is expected of them. That makes your button a bit superfluous.

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It actually does increase usability, and it is more common, but not in the way you have presented it, mostly it is in form of a context menu (the menu that pops up when you right click) and I think this is a more natural thing to do for a user when he wants to paste without using the Ctrl + V way.

Here's an example of how it is done in Google Chrome

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