Take the 2-minute tour ×
User Experience Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for user experience researchers and experts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

We have to present a list of time zones to the user from which they select the one that applies to them.

We have a choice about how we display this information - either:

Time zone name (Offset)

or:

(offset) Time zone name

Windows uses the latter approach, but I'm not sure.

How do people pick their time zone? Do they look for the name (Central European Time, Pacific Time, etc.) or do they use the offset from GMT or UTC?

This leads onto a supplementary question - should the offset be displayed relative to GMT or UTC? Windows XP used GMT whereas Windows 7 is using UTC - or at least that's the case for the machine I'm using.

share|improve this question
    
What task is the user trying to perform? Why are you forced into choosing this way? People tend to pick time zones based on location ("here")--can't you give them some access to that instead? –  Alex Feinman Apr 4 '11 at 14:11
    
@Alex - the application is a store manager. The head office admin staff will be selecting the time zone for stores they are setting up, so there is no "here" unfortunately. –  ChrisF Apr 4 '11 at 14:13
    
Do you already know the location of the store? Can you guess the possibilities for time zone from that? –  Alex Feinman Apr 4 '11 at 14:17
    
@Alex - not necessarily. While the address is a required field there's no guarantee the user has entered the values either correctly or in a way we can reliably work out the time zone. Good idea though. –  ChrisF Apr 4 '11 at 14:20

6 Answers 6

up vote 4 down vote accepted

In the few times I've done this, we've always followed the format: Time Zone Name (offset)

In very brief user testing, we found that users looked primarily for their time zone name and didn't always know the offset from GMT (or UTC). So we have that field first. I don't believe our users knew (or cared) about whether the offset should be from GMT or UTC.

This was for a form available to a broad public audience in the US. Our findings might not be the same if your audience is more technical or outside the US.

share|improve this answer
    
This chimes with my thoughts, but I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing something. –  ChrisF Apr 1 '11 at 17:26

I don't know where I saw it, but the best timezone picker I ever saw allowed you to pick a map that had shaded bands for timezones allowing you to pick the band. It was the easiest I've ever seen and the most intuitive.

Ubuntu for example: enter image description here

share|improve this answer
1  
And make the website/app usable just for people who know geography? It's cool and neat, but I wouldn't go there. –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Apr 2 '11 at 7:15
    
Something like this is also a little over the top for our application. –  ChrisF Apr 4 '11 at 11:38
    
It's definitely not right for every application, but I think you will find that majority of connected users would have an easier time with this than picking a -5:00 timezone. Realistically - you could do an IP to grab the initial timezone in many instances and ask if this is correct. That takes it one more step into the easy to use category. Cities not numbers are what most users will want to use. –  Chris Kluis Apr 5 '11 at 21:21
    
I would like to heavily second Chris Kluis' opinion. –  Sascha Brossmann May 9 '11 at 23:25
    
Nice, I wonder if we have something like that implemented as a jQuery plugin. –  Henry May 16 '12 at 15:52

One other alternative I could see is integration with location-data and something like the Google-maps api that can handle typed-in locations quite reasonably. I've not yet seen this integrated in timezone pickers, but it is used in weather apps. (I am not sure it is the best alternative, but I wanted to make it available anyway.)

share|improve this answer
    
Nice suggestion! –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Apr 3 '11 at 11:26

Speaking as someone who does this on a regular basis (Israel, UTC +02:00), I can tell you how it works for me.

I think the Windows approach is great, because only the zones used as standards really have names, and the others are denoted by different cities. There's a huge number of cities, and they share a relatively small number of timezones (about 30 - turns out that the differences are not always by a round hour, and sometimes can be half an hour).

The offsets are very easy to navigate, they go from -12 to +13 in a clear increasing order. So first I find my offset, +02, and then within that group I find the city that's relevant to me (this matters because of different daylight time saving policies in different countries). Now, you could do it by city in alphabetical order, and I'd have it easy since Israel is a small country. But if I lived in Russia or India, with a dozen cities on the list for each country, I'd have a hard time guessing which city you decided to list, and which of them is closest to my location.

share|improve this answer
    
We'd be listing them as they come out from Windows but with the name first. So instead of seeing "(GMT+2:00) Beirut" you'd see "Beirut (GMT+2:00)" –  ChrisF Apr 1 '11 at 18:32
    
Interesting insight. It depends on the audience - as I said in my answer, people in the US are definitely NOT familiar with their offset amount. It helps to organize them in order by offset amount, but in our case listing the time zone name first was preferred. –  Voodoo Apr 1 '11 at 18:32
    
@Chris, the problem is that many major cities and capitals share the same offset. E.g.: (UTC +01:00) Amsterdam, Berlin, Bern, Rome, Stockholm, Vienna. So if you flatten the list, it's going to be very, very large. But then again, I don't know your app and the selection of cities you offer. –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Apr 1 '11 at 19:17
    
@Vitally - we're pulling the list of time zones from Windows but I see what you mean. –  ChrisF Apr 1 '11 at 19:33

Most people will be looking for the time zone names, or cities, and not specifically for the number, so that could be a reason to list the offsets last.

On the other hand, offset first also makes sense to me, for this is the variable that determines the list ordering. It makes the ordering explicit, and if the amount of space for you list is wide enough there is still enough space for the full time zone names.

Personally I'd be looking for "Amsterdam (GMT+1)" and am always confused about daylight saving time, so if the place isn't listed I wouldn't know whether to choose GMT+1 or GMT+2. I'm less familiar with the abbreviation UTC, but for an audience from the US this could be different.

A very friendly and straightforward type of feedback for time zone settings is to show the local time according to the selected time zone. Users can simply look at the clock and verify if the displayed time matches their time.

share|improve this answer

If it's a dropdown many users search through letter pressing. This is only doable in the first form. But again, if you expand the dropdown is much more easy to find things in the second format.

I'd suggest user (A/B) testing :)

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

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