The first time I used an iMac it was a terrible user experience - I couldn't turn it on. I was scouring the keyboard and running my hands around the edge of it looking for the on button, or some magic touch zone. The same goes for the Motorola Xoom Android tablet. It took me a long time to find the button the first time.

In general, is there any good way of letting users know where a button is on the back of a device?

  • 10
    You could have a video / animation play when the device is turned on showing you where the button is to turn it on.... oh wait.
    – JonW
    Aug 15, 2012 at 11:06
  • 1
    There is a reason this doesn't happen very often in consumer electronics.
    – Will
    Aug 15, 2012 at 12:05
  • FWIW, the power button on an iMac is on the keyboard (or at least, that's where it used to be...)
    – DA01
    Aug 15, 2012 at 15:26
  • @DA01 Not on a wireless keyboard it's not.
    – fredley
    Aug 15, 2012 at 15:28
  • 2
    That's probably why there is often a 1 or 2 pages "startup" manual with most electronic products.
    – Julien N
    Aug 16, 2012 at 9:43

1 Answer 1


The problem lies in why the button was hidden in the first place. Presumably not for space-saving reasons, but for aesthetic reasons. This effectively rules out any visual representation on the device (otherwise, why not just put the button where people can see it?).

The only options at that point are to draw attention to the button in other ways, of which there are various.

  • Detail the startup procedure in the user manual. Okay, so users don't read manuals, but a quick-start sheet might help some people.
  • A plastic sticker that can be removed can be used to add a visual representation that doesn't interfere with the aesthetics of the design. It can simply be peeled off once the user knows where the button is.
  • Another option is to present the device to the user in such a way that the button can't be missed. If the button is on the back, package the item so that the back is what the user first sees when they open the box.
  • Related is the idea that you can place required pieces of functionality physically next to each other. Not many people complain that on/off switches on power supplies are hard to find, because those switches are usually next to the place you have to physically plug the cable into, massively increasing their discoverability.

Of course the other solution is to prioritise user experience over minor aesthetic matters and put the damn button on the front where people can see and use it. ;)

  • 2
    My problems with the iMac were probably due to not being the person who got it out of the box. All of these suggestions (bar the last) only work for the initial users, not any subsequent ones!
    – fredley
    Aug 15, 2012 at 11:55
  • 1
    It's probably a bad design decision, like dhmholley said. The only thing I can imagine, would be that there are no buttons at all, just the ones on the back. every user would look at the front, the bottom, the sides, the top and sooner or later he would look on the back.
    – K..
    Aug 15, 2012 at 12:05
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    The problem with "quick-start sheets" and more or less any other instructions are that most people never look at them. If a user finally turns to instructions the design could be considered broken.
    – Hoshts
    Aug 15, 2012 at 13:58
  • 1
    I've often seen stickers to indicate important, easy to miss buttons like you point out in your second bullet. Just make them easy to remove. There's nothing worse than using goo-gone to remove a 1 cent sticker from a $200+ device
    – Ben Brocka
    Aug 15, 2012 at 15:07
  • 1
    If you're going to going to put buttons on the back of the machine - make them big buttons with clear labelling. The original Classic Macs used to have a big rocker switch around the back that you could operate just by feel.
    – PhillipW
    Aug 15, 2012 at 22:41

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