I'm building a hangman game as part of a bigger mobile educational application. As you know for hangman you select letters and see if they are part of the word or sentence. I'm trying to decide if I should use a Qwerty layout for selecting letters or an alphabetical layout. My personal preference is alphabetical, but I have no good arguments to defend this choice.

What layout is the best choice and why?

  • I assume you're referring to hooking into the device-specific OS keyboard versions (either the keypad for alphabetical use or the OS qwerty) not building bespoke ones for this app? – JonW Jan 22 '13 at 9:40
  • No, the OS keyboard will not be used. Because I want to mark the selected letters (with color or fade selected letters). – TomDoes Jan 22 '13 at 9:42
  • Maybe the question How to improve the smartphone keyboard layout? can give you some ideas? – Benny Skogberg Jan 22 '13 at 9:48
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    Although it's an interesting question I feel that it doesn't apply fully to my question. I see the task at hand as a selection rather than a typing task. – TomDoes Jan 22 '13 at 9:53

You should cater the input to the particular usage. In this case it is a Hangman game, so do some research around how other Hangman games work.

As some extensive research shows (i.e. doing a quick Google Images search for 'Hangman Game' it shows that the far more popular route is to take an alphabetical approach.

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Now, this is far from a conclusive test, but it highlights the main suggestion - research user expectations and let that guide your decision rather than making the decision in isolation.

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  • Agreed, but do you have an idea why this choice is made? Because the answer of @JohnGB contradicts this approach. – TomDoes Jan 22 '13 at 10:05
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    I can make an educated guess (and will do some research too for my own curiosity) . The QWERTY keyboard is optimised for typing. In hangman you are not typing, you pick one letter at a time. In the same way as when searching for your name in an alphabetical list of names you know where to look to find that letter. QWERTY is designed so you don't have to look while typing, but hangman you do because it's a particular item you're looking for. I hypothesize that it is easier to find specific letters when sorted alphabetically than qwerty. – JonW Jan 22 '13 at 10:28

The only time that alphabetical order is the default is when you are sorting items alphabetically.

When it comes to using letters for any sort of input by someone who you expect has some experience in typing, a common keyboard layout makes the most sense.

This will be qwerty for most people, but if you are designing it for any other specific markets for which qwerty is not the standard, I would use that layout (Azerty, qwertz, etc.). This is made easier by the fact that each mobile already has a keyboard preference, so I would suggest using that choice as the basis for you.

If I were to choose only one layout for time or resource reasons, I would stick with qwerty.

Edit: If this were for small children with no typing experience or for whom you were trying to teach the letter order of the alphabet at the same time, I would use an alphabetical listing.

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  • Would your answer still be the same if you look at the task as a selection task (which is also an input task but it moves the task away from typing input)? – TomDoes Jan 22 '13 at 9:55
  • @TomDoes The only thing that would change my answer would be whether my target audience has any experience typing - which may very well be the case for small children. It may also be that it is being used to help teach alphabetical order, in which case you should obviously use alphabetical order. – JohnGB Jan 22 '13 at 10:04
  • I was going to say exactly the same thing. For me I'd prefer a QWERTY layout. It would take me a lot longer to type using a ABC keyboard layout. However, my 7 year old sister would find ABC layout easier probably. How about a preference to set it either way? – Fogmeister Jan 22 '13 at 10:23
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    This answer works on the assumption that you are using the keyboard for typing / writing. That's not what happens in Hangman. "It would take me a lot longer to type using a ABC keyboard layout." yes, you're right. But that's not what you do in Hangman. – JonW Jan 22 '13 at 10:35
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    Yes but you're not typing. Not even 2 characters at a second - you are looking in a list of a particular character to enter. Just as in iOS contacts if you want to find Peter Parker you'd use the A-Z on the side to pick the 'P'. You don't type P, you pick it from a list. Happy to move over to Chat to continue this so we don't fill the comments with back-and-forth. – JonW Jan 22 '13 at 11:10

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