Probably my favourite Google Chrome extension is Vimium. One of Vimium's features is pressing Shift + F to overlay a short character sequence on top of all selectable items on a page:

Vimium keyboard shortcut letter combinations in Chrome

By typing the short sequence, one can select that element, which usually means following a link but might also mean e.g. giving a textbox focus. I am wondering whether this kind of navigation paradigm has any studies around its efficacy. There's a related question: Are there any recent studies of the Keyboard vs Mouse"-issue? It would seem though that a lot of the experiments of keyboard vs. mouse focus on a set of (sometimes quite large) unique keyboard shortcuts required to perform specific actions. The Vimium paradigm seems somewhat different - there's only the one shortcut Shift + F that then intuitively "prompts" the shortcut combination for any given option with the overlay boxes.

Has the keyboard vs. mouse issue been studied in the context of this kind of shortcut paradigm?

  • Seems to be a very special interest topic and I don't think there are any studies on that. But what is the context of your concern? Where do you want to implement this? Jan 26, 2014 at 8:05
  • @MarcelBöttcher I'm not looking to implement this anywhere. It's just a keyboard-based paradigm that I've found useful for navigating in a browser and I'm interested to know whether it's been studied at all the way other keyboard vs. mouse approaches have been. Jan 26, 2014 at 8:09
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    Thank you for bringing Vimium to my attention. I am an avid keyboard user and while it seems a bit much for a SO/SE page, it seems it can be very helpful in pages with embedded forms. Jan 26, 2014 at 14:46
  • +1 I concur with @MarjanVenema, I've never seen this before and also am an avid keyboarder. I go out of my way to try and find ways I can avoid having to use my mouse. That said, I also agree with MarcelBöttcher, it seems to be a very specialized question and could be hard to get an accurate answer with sources. Feb 5, 2014 at 18:16
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    Yes. This has been studied and this type of UI improves learning and use of hot keys. However, the results of the research may be influenced by demand characteristics of the experimental setting. A field study would be more conclusive. MS may have done that type of research because Office has this type of UI for showing hot keys. The same authors wrote this paper which explains the problem of learning 'expert techniques'. Feb 13, 2014 at 17:03

1 Answer 1


Keyboard Shortcut navigation is not a new phenomena, but its efficiency is questionable. Because keyboard shortcuts have the same problem as command line tools; there are no visual clues of what you can do. You have to fill your mind with irrelevant information of keyboard shortcut navigation until the day when you have placed the patterns in your muscle memory.

Don't get me wrong; I love my keyboard shortcuts in my IDE, but they are context dependent, requires cognitive load to remember rather than recall visual cues in a GUI, and in today's world of many more different systems to operate the mouse, and its successor the finger(s) on touch interfaces is more efficient (even if it's a disputed notion).

Just scrolling through the Table of keyboard shortcuts makes you realize it's a lot to learn if one should be more efficient and faster than a pointing tool.

The study Comparison of Mouse and Keyboard Efficiency from 2010 come to this conclusion:

The learning and performance advantage for the mousebased toolbar method contrasts with the findings of Jogensen et al. (2002), Karat (1986), and Lane et al. (2005). The difference between our findings and these studies is the use of a categorized menu system which creates an additional selection process in using Alt sequences versus issuing a single keystroke or chord (i.e., control sequence) examined by the earlier studies. Indeed, our model explains why the Toolbar-Mouse method is faster – because it involves fewer selections and avoids cognitive operations requiring a categorical decision.

In your specific case you need to hit three keys which are visible, instead of reaching for the mouse and clicking the link. It may be more effective, since your case is visualized in another way than ordinary keyboard shortcuts. The downside is that the UI looks very cluttered on keyboard shortcut use, and the fact that you get different shortcuts on each page bringing constrains to shortcut actions.

But if there are studies, or research even, I would doubt it. The Wikipedia article is less than a year old and searching on Google Scholar brings only 13 results, where none are relevant.

From the looks of it, here is a research opportunity for someone exploring new knowledge on keyboard shortcut navigation.

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    While what is stated in this answer is essentially factual, only the last paragraph pertains to the question asked, and even then only just. Feb 11, 2014 at 5:56
  • @BryceThomas I agree, it was a bit thin in the end. So I've edited the answer to make a more clear "conclusion" or lack there of... Feb 11, 2014 at 6:58
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    @Benny Skogberg: Re: "there are no visual clues of what you can do." Well although I shudder to think that there's anything in Windows that I like, the one thing that I absolutely miss since I moved to OS X are the keyboard accelerators for accessing menus. e.g. Alt-F to open the File menu. In earlier versions of Windows (and in newer versions if you change the setting), the F on the file menu would be underlined to provide the visual cue. I did develop muscle memory for frequently used items, and could quickly navigate to lesser known items by looking at the underline. Quite effective!
    – manishie
    Dec 2, 2014 at 6:22

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