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I recently saw a website that required the user to double-click an item in a scrolling list to 'open' it for editing. It surprised me, as I don't usually think double-click is appropriate for websites, but users did pick it up quickly.

I know we've answered similar questions, and we can repeat the mantra of Jakob Nielsen; and I'd like to ask a different question:

What characteristics of an interaction make it more appropriate to violate the "don't use double-click" standard? What mitigating factors might their be?

In this case, I think:

  1. the similarity of metaphor to "opening" a desktop item may have contributed to users grokking the action quickly.
  2. the user population primarily uses desktop apps, and secondarily uses web apps. They are used to double-clicking (and may be 'default double-clickers', people who double-click on everything because sometimes single-click doesn't work).

What other factors might be contributing one way or the other?

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One of the factors against double-clicking not mentioned in the answers is that people with some disabilities are actually unable to double-click. Operating systems allow to disable the double-click; if the website, on the other hand, does not allow it in an intuitive way, it makes it impossible to use for those people. –  MainMa Jul 21 '11 at 18:42

8 Answers 8

up vote 11 down vote accepted

The issue is selection. On the desktop we usually select an item and then act on it. On the web, we act on the item without selecting it first - either that, or selection is implied by mouseover (which doesn't let us "select" multiple items). So, whenever we need to select an item explicitly before activating it, or when we need to perform multiple selection and we don't want to resort to checkboxes or a similar control, but select the item by clicking it directly, there could be a place for double-click. That being said, I'd only provide it as an alternative means to perform the action, like a shortcut. The main way needs to be visible, represented by an icon or a button or another graphical element.

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When I was using Google+ the first time, I noticed that they incorporate double clicks as an integral part of their Circles pages. The page shows a list of people - avatars and names. You can select them, multi-select them, rubberband a marquee to select them, all so that you can add them as a group to one of your circles.

But if you double click on one person, you go to their profile page.

Initially I wanted to look at a person's profile and I clicked on one of the rectangles. It simply got selected. Without thinking, I double clicked to get the action I wanted of 'opening that person's profile.

The interface is so akin to a desktop style of opening a document that it didn't have me wondering what to do at all - except the slight fact that it didn't do what I wanted the first time. Since it did what I expected the second time, that's my learning curve done, and not too steep at that.

I realise this probably accounts for items 1 and 2 in your question but I'm not sure there are any other mitigating circumstances for double click. Yet. But perhaps Google+ intends to push this interaction, with the 'desktop on the web' concept.

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+1 Nice observation, I had no idea! –  Matt Rockwell Jul 21 '11 at 18:43
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I just 'discovered' Google maps has double click to zoom in by a pre-defined amount at the mouse point. And, yep, right mouse double click zooms out. –  Roger Attrill Aug 5 '11 at 14:07
    
In Google Spreadsheets single click is used for selection while double click is used for edition. In this way it maintains the usual conventions of desktop spreadsheet software. –  Pau Giner Nov 28 '11 at 21:15

My experience shows that you should expect all clicks on your website to be possible double clicks, and if so, you shouldn't rely on a double-click (as opposed to single click) as an interaction method.

Users randomly double-click on normal <a href> links, on submit buttons, and everything else that resembles a desktop icon.

They also perform unconscious double clicks when trying to repeat an operation that yields no immediate result (slow web link, view doesn't change etc).

Beware! :)

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Two points:

  • the similarity of metaphor to "opening" a desktop item may have
    contributed to users grokking the action quickly.

Yes, if the interface does resemble a common OS file browser, then double-clicking may be suitable. However, the interface must be nearly identical to a 'real' file browser - the same click behaviour, the same fonts, the same folder icons, the same right-click context menu, etc. etc. Otherwise, the user just won't swap mental models.

  • the user population primarily uses desktop apps, and secondarily uses web apps. They are used to double-clicking (and may be 'default double-clickers', people who double-click on everything because sometimes single-click doesn't work).

Almost everyone uses desktop apps first and foremost - but that doesn't mean they expect browsers to act the same way.

What other factors might be contributing one way or the other?

Here's one: it's better to risk users misunderstanding a single-click interface than a double-click one. If I double-click a web link, I do no more than waste a finger movement. If I single-click a double-clicked control, my action is frustrated. This is a far worse outcome. So double-click interfaces are intrinsically 'riskier'.

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While I agree with all your points, none of them actually answer the question... –  Alex Feinman Jul 19 '11 at 16:51

The more web apps allow for interactions that were previously possible only on desktop apps (such as drag & drop), the more users begin to expect that the same things that are possible on a desktop app are also possible on a webapp (this is probably why some users will always try to double click in a web app and except it as 'natural').

So my answer is that time and experience are important factors here - with more technologies (such as HTML 5) that allow richer interaction in the web begin to spread and the more your users are familiar with such apps/interactions, the more they would expect things like double-click, drag and drop, resize etc. with web apps. For the time being though, its safer to define these interactions as secondary and not the primary interaction form.

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In web apps, double-click is becoming generally accepted by users, in my opinion.

In our web app, we use one click for inline edit, and double-click for open.

Maybe for novice users it is hard to understand double-click online, but for most I think it is generally accepted. It would be nice to see a survey on this topic.

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Related Question User experiences and double click for selection?

Double clicking is more of a problem on touch screen devices (or even just cheaper laptops) where the finger or a stylus is used instead of the easier-to-double-click mouse.

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One interaction I noticed in a usability test: when there's a table which allows users to resize columns by dragging the dividing lines between column headers. If a column gets shrunk too much, or overly widened, an automatic piece of behaviour for many people who've used Excel is to double-click that dividing line, with the intention "Auto-size this column to just the right size, please."

I imagine it doesn't work in most web cases, but Microsoft products are quite strong forces in shaping the usability expectations of large swathes of population!

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