This is something I've implemented in a Game Library application, the ability to type a letter or a number and have the search box go instantly into focus and search through your library as you type. So basically no matter what you are doing in this library as soon as you press an alpha or numeric key instant search goes into action. It's fast (instant) and snappy etc.

Here is my problem, users can select and deselect game icons (which represent games in the library), I want when a game is selected to be able to use WASD keys to navigate as if I were to use the arrow keys, this would mean disabling the instant search feature, but would it be OK to have keys other then W,A,S,D launch the search box knowing that 80% of the time in the library a game would be selected and that there is a 4/32 chance that a game would start with the letter W,A,S,D?

It's a bit tricky question and I've been debating with my partner whether to have instant search completely disabled when a game is selected OR have every key other then WASD still launch the instant search.

3 Answers 3


I wouldn't use the WASD keys for this purpose in this space. Most users will assume, even if an element is selected, that hitting a key will append a character or replace the current selection. And whilst WASD may be used for movement in PC games, that doesn't mean your users will assume the same convention applies to the web, which typically has different controls

I would stick to ordinary arrow keys for this purpose.

  • As I mentioned, WASD has the same functionality as arrow keys, but I feel having the WASD key for navigation prevents the need for right handed people to have to remove their hands from the mouse and have to use the arrow keys since using the mouse to manipulate the library is also a huge part of the application, using WASD is a PC Gamer thing and that's one of the many reasons I want to put it in, some power users (such as my self) would find it faster to be able to use both the power of keyboard and mouse for faster navigation and manipulation May 25, 2012 at 19:42
  • Also I should mention, their is a prompt on the bottom left hand side which displays keyboard icons along with a one word description as to what it does, so for the library their would be an an icon showing arrow keys and an icon showing the WASD keys and beside them is a simple label that says "Move" that way its a bit clearer for those people that want to use the WASD key thats what it does. Another solution would be having WASD an optional feature that could be off by default, maybe that's a better solution? May 25, 2012 at 20:17
  • @Epicmaster: Whilst there is an ergonomics gain, you can't assume that PC users will grasp that they can port their expectations of (some) videogame interfaces to their interactions with the web. I don't really think using a legend or label will help - users never read them. And I can't see an optional navigation feature being discovered, yet alone switched on. Arrow keys, on the other hand, are an expected convention of typical web forms. May 25, 2012 at 21:53

Activate search on alt+key. This way you keep the functionality and you can do this for all keys. It's less intuitive and more difficult to discover by chance, but if you place a text to this end in the search box, it might be a sufficient explanation.

  • the lack of intuitiveness and the awkwardness involved if you think of having to search for a game starting with say Z or X for left ALT or M and L for left alt completely eradicates the efficiency gained by simple type and search and I might as well just have users click on the search box at this point. May 25, 2012 at 19:45

This is not a good idea, as a user will have an inconsistent experience. They can search for Q-Bert, but they would be unable to search for Sniper or Delta Force (they would instead search for 'niper' and 'elta force' if they weren't paying close attention). This confusion and uncertainty makes this a poor user experience.

In my opinion, users will not attempt to navigate with the letter keys except in rare cases... supporting those users at the expense of easy search is unlikely to be a benefit.

  • sorry, not sure I understand, when a game is launched this Library app loses focus so the Q key would only activate what ever the Q key does int game. What I mean by WASD navigation is having the WASD keys navigate from game icon to game icon just like the arrow key would, the actual game has nothing to do with this. May 25, 2012 at 15:10
  • I apologize, I misunderstood how you were using the WASD keys. May 25, 2012 at 15:33
  • I'm left-handed. I have to remove my hand from my mouse to use WASD. I don't like that. May 25, 2012 at 15:44
  • He indicated that WASD mirror the use of the arrow keys; lefties already have a better usability for most sites since using the arrow keys does not require taking your hand off the mouse. WASD (even though I'm not a fan) is helpful to right handers. May 25, 2012 at 16:23
  • ^ Correct, tanks for pointing that out. May 25, 2012 at 19:40

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