Most people in my workplace have multiple monitors with the primary monitor being to the left of the secondary one, and I have noticed that they have trouble closing applications.

Generally, the problem arises when they aim for the infinite top-right corner of their primary monitor (the standard location for the "close" button) and their cursor slides across to the second monitor. They also tend to have trouble with items near the right edge of the primary monitor.

I always like to offset my secondary monitor so I can hit the top right corner (at the expense of the bottom right), but I have trouble convincing other people to do this.

Are there any UX guidelines for application interfaces in multi-monitor environments? And should any such guidelines account for different monitor positions? (e.g. secondary monitor to the right, secondary monitor above)

Update: I'm not so much after OS-specific tips for improving the Multi-monitor experience, as I don't have control over the user's OS behaviour (i.e. I can't force my co-workers to offset their screens). I am seeking guidelines for interface development that take account of the altered properties of multi-monitor setup (for example, how to account for the effective loss of a screen edge).

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    While there might be a case for guidelines, they would have to cope with monitors in any position and orientation as people have different requirements and preferences when it comes to placement.
    – ChrisF
    Mar 13, 2012 at 10:18
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    You definitely need to account for different placements. Your question assumes that the primary monitor is on the left; mine happens to be on the right. The question assumes they are of like size (or at least height); I have one oriented landscape and one portrait, aligned closer to on-center (not across the top). And so on... (For that matter, your question also assumes Windows; the close button on the Mac is on the left. :-) ) Mar 13, 2012 at 15:49
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    Wait, your co-workers are nerdy enough to have multiple monitors but they still use a mouse to close windows? Mar 15, 2012 at 2:53
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    @KitGrose: There's the same option in Windows (though it requires some extra "force" - larger dragging distance).
    – dnbrv
    Mar 15, 2012 at 15:17
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    @MattRockwell The problem is that with an absolute corner, the click target is essentially infinite in width in two dimensions. With an arbitrary point along the top edge, the click target is infinite on one axis, but requires fine precision to navigate to a close button that is approximately 20 pixels wide.
    – Alex
    Mar 15, 2012 at 23:02

3 Answers 3


psychology the right side is perceived as rational, while left as more emotional/creative and sensitive.

interaction you describe ideal model according to the Fitt's law at which the value of interaction aspires to infinity (an interaction element at single monitor corner).

Fitt's Law

Fitt's Law demonstration

ux. I use for a long time two monitors for work, as primary the right is established. Primary apps are started on the right screen, left is used generally for the auxiliary purposes (file manager, email, music player etc). Similar practice was noticed and co-workers from other departments or during carrying out tests in eye tracking lab. Only 65 % of lefthanders have a left screen as main.

If to choose from two monitors - at least by two criteria the right screen as primary it is most convenient, as show supervision.

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    I disagree. For me, primary screen is definitely the left one (I'm right-handed and a programmer, not an artist). English speakers read left-to-right, and we expect important things to be in the top-left corner.
    – dbkk
    Mar 14, 2012 at 22:16
  • There is no standard. For me, it varies based on my desk, my computer, my monitors, my office...I've had my secondary monitor on the right, left and above (currently). And lets not forget those that use 3 screens.
    – DA01
    Mar 14, 2012 at 22:52
  • I don't want to tell that this rule. Its only experience.Programmers it is a separate branch of evolution in my opinion (: Yes, I noticed the similar things strangely enough much of them are caused only by an arrangement of a working surface of an angular table in our office. Certainly, everyone in the right to establish monitors how is more convenient to it. The third monitor which was used as dashboard I refused in favor of the LCD TV. Mar 14, 2012 at 23:03
  • My primary screen is on the left because of the arrangement of my desk. My colleague happens to use a 32" monitor at his desk, and a 48" monitor mounted on a wall 4 feet behind, but above, the primary monitor.
    – msanford
    Mar 15, 2012 at 14:25

If you or your coworkers are on Windows, there is a simple workaround: Click on the active window (the target is much larger than an "X" icon), and then: CTRL+W or ALT+F4 to close

For multiple monitors, there are also several handy shortcuts: WINDOWS+LEFT OR WINDOWS+RIGHT to attach window to left/right hand side of the screen WINDOWS+D to show desktop; once again to show all


Have fun.

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    @dnbrv But how many "common users" have multiple monitor setups? I don't know any. Mar 15, 2012 at 14:15
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    @peteorpeter: Plenty. Do you really think that a financial trader or a freight dispatcher is a power user? Yet, she needs & uses multiple screens to do her job successfully.
    – dnbrv
    Mar 15, 2012 at 14:19
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    @dnbrv I'm definitely no expert on those occupations. But wouldn't someone who works in that environment day after day quickly become a power user - at least for the actions they commonly perform? (Don't journalists learn ctrl-x and ctr-v pretty quickly even if they have no idea what RAM is?) Of course, I could see people not even conceiving that their would be keyboard shortcuts for window actions - there is a real issue of discoverability. Cut and Paste are at least menu items with tooltips explaining the keyboard shortcuts, so there's a chance they'll be discovered. Mar 15, 2012 at 14:31
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    @dnbrv I would agree with the comment above. It depends how you define power user. I would consider a financial trader as a power user of their particular setup. I would hypothesise that people with multiple screens spend a larger percentage of their time using them, than those of single monitors.
    – Sheff
    Mar 15, 2012 at 15:51
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    @Sheff: A financial trader surely is a power user of her own application but she isn't necessarily a power user of the OS. There's a designer or two behind each software or workflow that requires multiple screens. Those designers must take how OS works with multiple screens into account when creating their software. There're also designers working on the OS and they should consider people using multiple screens when creating OS behavior. That's what the question is asking.
    – dnbrv
    Mar 15, 2012 at 16:01

Having monitors set up in a vertical layout (one above the other) could strain the neck. I think that the ideal (from an ergonomic point of view) is to have the monitors at the same height and distance from you and to rotate with the chair + mouse and keyboard towards the monitor you are currently using, so that you are facing it almost directly with you entire body and no sitting in an offset.

These two tips could help preventing the "loss" of the cursor:

  1. In order to not "loose" the cursor when working with two screens I use the flash on Ctrl click OS-feature, so that the cursor attracts attention even from the corner of my eye.

  2. In the office I use two (almost) identical monitors both at the same height and at angle (so there is approximately a 120 degree angle between them) and sit between them, that way I am not biased towards either. Since this layout means you are never directry facing either monitor, but instead facing about 2/3 of its width - towards the other monitor, you always have view of the edge of the second monitor, especially when looking at the edge of the screen, so you don't loose the cursor.

As of how I divide my work between the screens...

I have the taskbar + open primary applications on one (the left) and the desktop icons + mail, browsers and additional instance of primary application on the other (the right).

When I am working with one more than the other, I turn my chair, keyboard and mouse a bit, so that I don't tilt my body much.

I found that working with two differently sized monitors is uncomfortable for me and I end up just using the larger one.

At home I have one big screen and if I have multiple apps open at once, I put one on the right and one on the left e.g. movies on the right and documents/browsers on the left.

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