User Experience Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for user experience researchers and experts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I generally keep it as a good rule of thumb that if a UI element contains text that is longer than 20 characters (and is not an input field), then the contained characters should be a tooltip rather than actually displayed on the element. This primarily applies to buttons and menu elements. However, I've had some difficulty convincing other members of my team that excessive description is a bad design practice.

I wonder if anyone else has some similar guideline that they try to enforce.

share|improve this question

closed as too broad by DA01, Joshua Barron, Bart Gijssens, JonW Apr 15 '14 at 9:20

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Can you add any example of your idea so we are sure of what do you mean? Some screenshot of a shorter than 20 and longer than 20 interface would be OK – PatomaS Apr 5 '14 at 7:07
What is your justification for this rule-of-thumb? – DA01 Apr 14 '14 at 15:56
Are you asking for a list of other 'rules of thumbs' people have? Or are you asking to try and figure out if this particular rule of thumb is a good one? If the former, while certainly an interesting question--it's not one that fits Stack Exchange very well. – DA01 Apr 14 '14 at 15:58

Rules of thumb that do not have a strong "WHY" attached are dangerous. Magic numbers too.

With respect, using example by @Abektes

"32 as magic number ... It was rule of internalization department."

that rule could have been because the department paid for translation by the character? or longest word in any language? ... who knows why?

One rule of thumb I do use is to try keep high importance interactive UI items such as buttons and links down to two words or less, and a Verb and Noun e.g. "Add User". Why? Because this lowers the cognitive load, and thus supports fast and accurate scanning of a UI by a user. Sometimes 3 words or more are required, but much rather be brief than explicit.

share|improve this answer
I always push for button labels in 'Verb + Noun' format (plus additional preposition or article). It makes it faster for users to scan and understand the functionality. – JDelossantos Apr 14 '14 at 16:03

If you are doing something international and aiming to add different languages, you may need more than 20.

Generally Russian and Indonesian language may need more character, there are some other but i could not recall them. I remember 32 as magic number from my past experience in a major international company. It was rule of internalization department.

share|improve this answer

My rule of thumb is to use enough text to make it clear what the UI element is for. If I need more than 20 characters to make it clear, then I'm likely not doing the end-user a service by hiding the additional information in a tool tip.

share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.