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When I place the help button in dialogs like here:

enter image description here

What tab order should I use? It's obvious that the content panel uses tabindex values that correspond to the reading order which is supported by the optical layout (which may indeed be questionable in this very case). My question is only about the relation of the order of content, Help, OK, Cancel.

The reading order clearly suggests content, Help, OK, Cancel. Whereas IMHO the fill-in order suggests content, OK, Cancel, Help because you change input controls via tab key, and after completing the form, it would make sense to get to the OK button. To me, this looks like a dilemma, but I have only a limited knowledge of UX.

What is the preferable option from the usability POV?

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    There are no definite answers to questions like this. This would be a good Eyetracking test i.e., on one hand Help is left closer in the pattern, and on the other hand ok has blue outline. Would be best for you to test what captures attention, or search for similiar UX research results. – xul Nov 26 at 12:34
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Both options seem equally wrong to me: it actually is a dilemma.

One way to resolve the dilemma would be to deactivate the TabStop for the Help button and add the hotkey F1 to the form, ideally also shown on the help button (Caption: "Help (F1)"). This would make help most accessible and didn't distract from completing forms.

Besides this, OK has the Default property set (hence the blue border) and most likely Cancel has the Cancel property set. So you get three "hotkeys" to leave the dialog:

  • Enter: closes the form via OK
  • Esc: closes the form via Cancel
  • F1: pause the form to enter help
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    If you deactivate the tabstop for the Help button, how are blind users expected to know that it is there? – IkWeetHetOokNiet Nov 26 at 13:32
  • @user800 Good point: can you please point me to a resource to find mor information about how blind users interact with standard GUIs? Thanks in advance :) – Wolf Nov 26 at 14:27
  • @user800 as to "answer" your question, I have to ask a counterquestion: Isn't a screen reader reading captions? In this case, it would read "Help (F1)" - in case it doesn't: how is static text and things like that handled? I didn't know that the presence of tab stops is of importance, but to be honest, I don't know much about how blind people use computers. – Wolf Nov 26 at 14:44
  • As far as I know, screen readers read UI elements (or rather, their labels) that receive focus. If you take a button out of the tab order, it cannot receive focus and therefore will not be read. – IkWeetHetOokNiet Nov 26 at 16:16

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