The W3C allows different CSS cursor properties.

Some of them are really common, and I think a majority of users understand them because they saw them per default on any website (text when the text can be selected, pointer for a link, etc.)

But I don't know what to think about the help cursor:

enter image description here

W3C says:


  • Help is available for the object under the cursor. Often rendered as a question mark or a balloon.

I'd like to know what the user expects when he gets this cursor. A tooltip? A link? Nothing?

Do you have any information/research about the user experience with this cursor?

  • 1
    I remember reading once that a study conducted that 90% of users are not aware of the cursor icon change. Unfortunately, I can't find the source any more... So I don't want to tell you that cursor icons are useless anyway but that's what I stick to in my designs in general. Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 9:34
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    If the cursor is a question mark and there are links in the text (in that area), then the user would probably assume that clicking a link would provide some help/info on that item. Otherwise I think the question mark is not very useful in any way
    – mowgli
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 11:46

1 Answer 1


As the W3C page says, the cursor means "help is available". Since it is contextual (it has to be, since it's directly attached to the mouse cursor and therefore is representational of whatever the cursor is pointing at), there are essentially two possibilities:

  1. The help is immediately shown along with the cursor (for example in the form of a tool tip), in which case it should be obvious and no action is necessary, or,
  2. Some action is necessary. Since the help icon is attached to the cursor, the only logical action should be a click (specifically a left-click), and the click should present help information about whatever the cursor is over.

That said, it's not a commonly-used interface anymore, and most UIs tend to embed the contextual help information into the interface from the beginning, or based on keyboard focus more than mouse focus, since modern touch interfaces don't work well with the idea of pointing at elements of the UI.

Another problem with this cursor is there is no agreed-upon interface to represent the other side of the equation: i.e. what things can be pointed at to get help. Some web pages will use a double-underline, but that only works for text and even then is hardly common enough to be considered a standard idiom.

I'll also just throw in that the behavior of clicking something that is showing this cursor should not navigate away from the current page, because the cursor is primarily an arrow and not a pointing hand. Thus it should not be used on links of any kind, even if the link is to a help page.

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