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When instructing users which mouse button to click an element with, it standard practice to use the phrase 'left/right click':

To download the file, 'right click' the link and choose 'Save Target as...'

I use the mouse in my left hand, and as generally recommended I have swapped the mouse buttons around. Now if someone uses the terminology 'right click', it is no longer accurate and could cause confusion.

Should I continue to use left/right due to it being generally accepted terminology? I would suggest 'primary/secondary click' should be used, though I have never seen this in the wild.

Please note, this question assumes that I have to use words relating to what button to click on the mouse, the example wording above is just a contrived example. I'm less interested about the issues around using platform specific terminology (ie. what if I'm using a touch device!), that said it is a valid point to make.

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generally recommended ? –  Ebenezar Dec 9 '13 at 8:22
    
@Ebenezar he meant the swapping of button mapping when using the mouse with your left hand was the recommendation. I've updated the post. –  AndroidHustle Dec 9 '13 at 8:24
    
@AndroidHustle Got it! –  Ebenezar Dec 9 '13 at 9:16
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You could force download by setting the appropriate headers, so that clicking the link lead to downloading. –  Alexey Kolchenko Dec 9 '13 at 11:20
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People using a Mac (at least a macbook pro) only have one 'button' anyway, it's one-finger click for primary action, two-finger click for secondary. Mac OS calls it 'secondary action' but in my experience users mentally-map 'right-click' and 'secondary click' anyway. –  JonW Dec 9 '13 at 12:07
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5 Answers 5

up vote 20 down vote accepted

Conventions and the conscious breaking of

The vast majority of people don't have their mouse buttons swapped. Even people who use the mouse with their left hand, often keep the buttons as they would normally be (myself is an example for this). Thus, people who swap these buttons can be considered in UX as complementary personas (people with special requirements).

While the terms primary and secondary click are used within the Apple mouse preferences, the terms right and left click are such a convention that choosing a different name, while possibly serving a minority, will confuse many others. (This may be the right place to consider Apple's rather futile attempts to rebrand the 'Alt' key as 'Option'.)

If we could start all over again, I grossly support the primary and secondary terms. Yet there are many conventions that are far more senseless than the left/right click (for instance, a music production software is termed Digital Audio Workstation), yet they are the convention.

In addition, people who swap the mouse buttons are very conscious about doing so and that the term 'right click' means 'left click' and vice versa.

A screengrab of the Apple System Preferences Mouse window

The stage example

Perhaps a good way to explain this is by giving the live-performance example. In live settings involving a stage, 'stage left' means as viewed by someone on stage facing the audience. The live engineer, which faces the stage, is fully conscious her view is mirrored, thus she will use the term 'stage left' for what is her right, and vice versa. This can be seen in the Boy George stage plot below. People who work in such settings are little baffled by the fact the left side of the illustration is titled 'right'. In the same way, those swapping their mouse buttons are fully aware of the left/right exchange.

An illustration showing the stage arrangement of Boy George, with the left side titled 'stage right'

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Not at all. Just saying that when people are conscious of the left/right exchange they hardly struggle with it - anyone who swaps his mouse buttons naturally also swaps left/right instruction. –  Izhaki Dec 9 '13 at 15:20
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@AlexFeinman: What Izhaki says. I have used a mouse in my left hand for years (trying to counter RSI, only to develop a mouse thumb...), and did have the buttons swapped around, simply because left click had been wired in my brain as index finger and right click as middle finger. Now, if somebody instructed me to left click, I would immediately press down on the right mouse button (index finger). Had they been "kind enough" to swap instructions I would have been utterly confused. –  Marjan Venema Dec 9 '13 at 18:54
    
"This may be the right place to consider Apple's rather futile attempts to rebrand the 'Alt' key as 'Option'." - Futile? People in the Apple community who insist on referring to it as "Alt" are seen as odd ducks at best. And what should have Apple labeled secondary click as in that control panel? "Right click?" So it would say "Right click; Click on left side" if someone swapped the buttons? –  Garrett Albright Dec 9 '13 at 19:26
    
I don't know anyone who considers people saying 'alt' for Macs as an odd duck - a bit of a supremacist view really. Isn't acceptance key to UX? I've always used 'option' and even in PC-free environments people get confused. And as for your second question - I reckon the guys in Apple are smart enough to give a swap option for the buttons and thus keep the naming correct. –  Izhaki Dec 9 '13 at 19:50
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This is an interesting one,

  • What would you do if the user is accessing the screen using a touch screen device.
  • 'Save Target As..' if you are using Internet explorer, if you are using chrome, 'it's save link as'

Sometimes in design you have to consider 'what's the majority use case', is it of users swapping the buttons? If you try to include too much description too cover all points, your help text could become too verbose.

I would put a simple "Right click and select 'save link' or 'save target', on the link to download file"

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Avoid using platform-specific terms as much as possible, especially considering that touch devices are becoming more and more common.

In this specific case, I'd avoid the instructions altogether and offer a Download link. Following that link should suggest the browser to save the file instead of opening it, even if it's an image or an HTML page.

Technically: This is easily accomplished by customizing the HTTP header via PHP for a specific file or via .htaccess for an entire directory:

# Put this in the .htaccess of a /download/ directory.
# Every file in there will be downloaded.
ForceType application/octet-stream
Header set Content-Disposition attachment

This works in all browsers including Chrome for Android, but not on iOS (where there is no "click" anyway)

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Majority of the people use mouse in the right hand. So commonly used convention of left/right click is understood even by left handed useres. People who use mouse left handed are, I would think, used to getting reverse instructions in most other places. I would think, covering those exceptions is what adds to confusion for those people than actually the interchanged instructions. So keeping it in standard left/right click should be good enough.

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Yes.

I too am a left-handed computer user, but I grew up in a home where everyone else was right-handed. When I got my own computer (and discovered that there was a left-handed mouse setting), I swapped the mouse buttons and never noticed that left/right click instructions were reversed now. I still use my index finger to left-click and my middle finger to right-click, which is enough for me to intuitively understand which button to click with.

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