In my recent course on HCI, I've been told that start button on Windows systems is an example of poor mapping. The reason for that, as explained in materials, is that it doesn't start anything, but rather reveals a menu. I think that this is only valid if you approaching this from low level of abstraction (meaning that the button must start something).

If you on the other hand take a view on this from higher level of abstraction, as of "Place where I start most of my tasks", i.e.

  1. This is the place where you are start*ing the task of switching off your computer
  2. This is the place where you are start*ing the task of searching for something on your computer
  3. This is the place where you are start*ing the task of running a program
  4. This is the place where you are start*ing the task ...

Then I think it makes perfect sense and has perfect mapping.

Is this a sensible interpretation?

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    I want to point to Why you have to click the Start button to shut down., from someone who knows. Commented Apr 9, 2012 at 13:00
  • I feel like its more bad user interfacing...
    – Anonymous
    Commented Apr 9, 2012 at 13:11
  • Per @BenBrocka, this is being migrated to the User Experience Stack Exchange for experts in usability and HCI. I think you'll probably get better answers there. Commented Apr 9, 2012 at 13:31
  • Not completely, "I want to stop using my computer."
    – Izkata
    Commented Apr 9, 2012 at 16:58
  • 2
    @Izkata: Look at the link Joshua provided. Long story short, Shutdown is in the Start menu because that's where the testers thought to look for it
    – 3Doubloons
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 3:34

3 Answers 3


I think your own analysis matches Microsoft's own from the link I provided in my comment.

To quote from Why do you have to click the Start button to shut down?:

People booted up the computer and just sat there, unsure what to do next.

That's when we decided to label the System button "Start".

It says, "You dummy. Click here." And it sent our usability numbers through the roof, because all of a sudden, people knew what to click when they wanted to do something.

  • 1
    Your Win 7 example goes with the idea: Don't break the user model, which I swear I got from Joel. Commented Apr 9, 2012 at 13:43
  • 3
    It is the place to "start" a task, which may include shutting down the system.
    – ehdv
    Commented Apr 9, 2012 at 21:29
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    People don't read instruction books. Many usability studies that I read about seem to assume that you don't also.
    – Rangoric
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 1:26
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    I think its more subtle than that: people don't read instruction books - IF THEY THINK THEY CAN JUST FIGURE IT OUT. I suspect the attitude was rather different in 1984 as a Mac cost $2495, so new Mac users would treat them with a bit more reverence and bother to read the manual and go on training courses. And from 1984 on, the Mac's GUI stayed basically the same. I think the need for the Window's start button came up because there was a big jump between the Windows 3.1 GUI and Win 95 - and by 1995 computers where relatively cheap things, which people felt they ought to just be able to use.
    – PhillipW
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 10:04
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    I don't think push on / push off is such an odd behaviour - it reflects the operation of the traditional on/off buttons on radios and TVs which would have been around in the mid 90s.
    – PhillipW
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 13:10

If one could say that it's a new system where users are supposed to open a menu to programs, one could agree, but that is not the case. The start-menu button have been around since Windows 95, first released August 24, 1995. It superseded the Program Manager from Windows 3.0 and is comparable with Apple Macintosh "Apple Menu". The Start Menu have the ability to group within in groups that was not possible in the Program Manager (nor in the Apple Menu).

Windows 95 start button and menu

Image from Wikipedia

This is in one word spelled Legacy. Another word for it could be convention, as in the save button icon or the faq label. Also we can draw a parallel to a web pages' first page which is called... (wait for it) the start page! This page doesn't start anything either, but it's the start of the web site. The same goes for mobile devices which have ... (that's right) start screens! IMHO start represent the start of a new activity, not a start of a program.

References from Wikipedia: Windows 95 and Start Menu History.

  • 2
    I think he's asking more "Why did they ever do that" vs what's currently understood.
    – Ben Brocka
    Commented Apr 9, 2012 at 16:41
  • @BenBrocka I thought he was asking if his understanding of how it could be viewed as good UX was a reasonable one, vs. how his UX textbook described it. Commented Apr 9, 2012 at 17:14
  • 1
    I don't think I hear the home page of web sites referred to as start pages very often, if at all in colloquy.
    – MetalFrog
    Commented Apr 9, 2012 at 18:57

Note: My current os is Ubuntu 12.04 and rarely using windows My point of view: Non technical/Normal user.

Since the topic is user experience, the start button was a success when it was introduced. Even a person with absolute zero technical knowledge can use windows. Consider the stages of linux... still evolving even in 2012 still it doesn't have a good GUI.

Lets don't forget about the duty of operating system. It should be a platform for us to do our tasks, to ease our work.

How many of you had to spend time to fix/configure your os before you can start your work. If so this the case of other operating systems.

Every os has its ups and downs for mac hardware compatibility is an issue for windows good beginner and expert level users not for intermediate users :)

windows has many down sides but its not the interface.

MS still keep the start button to keep consistency, so that users don't get confused every time. Even if they shifted to next new operating system.

i believe that Consistency has got a very important role in User Experience.

Conclusion: Even if doesn't actually start anything when clicking START button, It means something to the user. I think we should study more when taking such big topics. Even the colors used in windows icon has got many specialties. People are different, not everyone has same power for eyes. Those icons are designed for everyone (any age).

Sorry if i am offending anyone and please correct me if i am wrong.

  • #Danish Just to note that Start button is not just an actual place where user starts most of his task as the OP rightly pointed out, but also start button starts most of those tasks. It happens to be that most of those tasks have idendical first step: one need to click on start button.
    – smallB
    Commented Apr 11, 2012 at 13:08

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