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We're adding to our Wordpress site a forum called simple-press, and are tweaking the UI and the UX a little. One of the things that our designer wants to change is the wording on the submit button on the "add new topic" form.

Before you submit the form, you have to answer a math question (instead of a captcha). Therefore, until the math question is answered the submit button is disabled, and it says "Do math to save": submit button before the math is done

And after the math is done, the it says "Post new topic": submit button after the math is done

Now I have a few question:

1) Our designer thinks that "Do math to save" is unclear, and that the text on the button should say "Post new topic" even when the button is disabled. Her reasoning is that the user knows that they have to fill out all required fields in the form, and therefore will fill out the math question, and they don't need a reminder on the button. Is that logical?

2) Another designer thought that regardless of the previous question, the words "Post new topic" are confusing, and that it should simply say "submit". Is she right?

3) This is a general question: simple-press is a widely used forum. I think it stands to reason the the wording there was well thought about, and that if it weren't user friendly, the community would have voted to change it already, and therefore our designers shouldn't fiddle with the wording at all. Am I wrong?

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3 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Is "Do math to save" unclear?

I’m inclined to agree with your designer. Buttons are supposed to be labeled with the action the app does, not the user. “Do Math to Save” may sound to some users like they have the option of making the app complete the calculation for them if only the user can figure out how to enable the button for it. Other users may think the disabled appearance makes the text non-applicable when the opposite is true.

The prompt (the bold text about the equation) tells the user what to do. The current prompt is probably okay, but it would be slightly clearer if it were more like “Do math to post.” The text “What is the sum of” is redundant with “4 + 6 = .” Consider adding the equals sign and deleting the text to focus more attention on the key prompt above.

“Post New Topic” or “Submit”?

It’s long been recognized that command buttons should be labeled with the specific action they do (e.g., see Windows 7 guidelines). This confirms to the user what action they’re executing. Users can and will skip the dialog title but they have to at least focus on the command button to click it.

“Post New Topic” is consistent with this. You might be okay with just “Post,” but only if the topic text is on the same page –otherwise the users may think they’re posting their arithmetic answer. “Save” doesn’t necessarily mean the topic will become public, which is important for the user to know.

“Submit” is the “OK” of web apps, a generic label having very little meaning. Use it only if you have nothing better. The position of the Post button and the visual hierarchy of the page should make it clear that Post is the final execution action.

Will a Community Vote to Change Labels?

Humans can get used to all kinds of wacky arbitrary things. The thing is once users/programmers have learned something, they’ve learned it; they’ll get no benefit in changing it. So why would they suggest such a thing?

The problem in your situation may be that the users that suffer the most from unclear labels have the least ability to complain about it –they’re new users weakly connected with the development community. Once they’ve gotten into the app enough to know how to complain, they’ve already been indoctrinated.

Experienced users use controls more by their position than their labels. As long as you don’t simultaneously change the graphic design or layout of the controls, I expect you can change the labels to be more effective for novice users while having minimal impact on your experienced users. Your experienced users may not even notice it for many pages. The question is, what labels are more effective for novices? Without somehow involving novices in the development (e.g., through user testing), you’re just making educated guesses.

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1) Both phrases force me to think because it's two distinct actions but one button. Ideally, I'd break it apart into 1: Do the math, 2: [Post]

If you're stuck with the format as shown I'd run with Michael's suggestion of Do Math to Post. And kill the verbiage above the sum - that will do nothing but slow users down.

2) "Post new topic" is better than submit. It's parallel with the name of the dialog, and tells the user what will happen when the button is clicked. "Submit" could be interpreted as "submit my sum so I can then submit my topic somehow".

3) Oof. There's a lot to say about this issue. My immediate responses are 1. just because it's in production with that tool does not automatically mean it was well (or thoughtfully designed); 2. regardless of any other issue, does the design work for your users?

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To answer point 3:

You could look at the standard wording as that which most people find least objectionable. It will be the default that works for most people most of the time. Your users will be different from the norm - either in technical ability, subject matter, etc. and a different wording may well be more appropriate for you.

I'm not saying that you should change it as a matter of course, but you should consider it.

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