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I know that the ideal state would be to use positive connotation for checkbox labels as in

[✔️] do this

rather than

[✔️] don't do this

The system I am working on has many checkboxes in many different areas. Some of them with the ideal (positive) caption, most of them unfortunately with the not so ideal (negative) caption.

This has the following reason: In the past large sets of data were affected and all checkboxes which were implemented later either deactivated or at limited that data set. For example:

All images and their entire meta data are indexed.
[✔️] Don't index gps data
[✔️] Don't index caption date

Every time I bump in to a checkbox with negative caption a little kitten dies... It would be possible to negate all checkboxes and their states within the entire system. But I'm positive that

a) this would confuse existing power users and b) this would be technically quite time consuming

Shall we continue with this "system"? Shall we implement every checkbox with positive caption from now on? Should we negate all existing checkmark captions and states?

I'm not sure.

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    As a user I would be too busy holding down my rage after seeing 'there' written instead of 'their' to notice the checkboxes. :) – Rotem Sep 15 '14 at 15:00
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    OP knows that positive labels would be better but is specifically asking if he should change the long established negatively phrased labels and risk confusing experienced users or maintain the status quo, thereby potentially confusing new users. – Matt Obee Sep 15 '14 at 15:17
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    @EvilClosetMonkey none of those links provide answer to my questions: Shall I change all checkbox states from now on and/or in the past? – uxfelix Sep 15 '14 at 15:20
  • @uxfelix, can you stand up a new screen that offers things in the more positive light, parallel to your existing system? Maybe call it "Beta", maybe call it "Improved editor", and get feedback from your users. You might be able to placate your existing users if the data is better organized by their workflow, and offers more reasonable defaults. – John Deters Sep 15 '14 at 15:23
  • How often are finding random negative statements, vs. what is your ability to find them all (or the majority of them)? Is it a few negative statements every-so-often, or do you tend to find them in bulk? – Evil Closet Monkey Sep 15 '14 at 15:33
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I would suggest that if a checkbox is used frequently and without little thought, either leave the label and its behavior unchanged or, if you do change it, make that change very prominent and easily noticeable. If the control looks the same at first glance apart from a slight text change, those regular users may not notice that the wording and the underlying logic has changed and will continue to rely on the same mental models and learnt behaviours.

If however a checkbox is buried away and used infrequently, perhaps in a settings or configuration interface, go ahead and change the label to use positive phrasing. Experienced users are less likely to have strict mental models about these areas and are more likely to pay attention to the labels when they do.

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  • Although I think it will be hard to classify checkboxes as you described since the software I am dealing with is in the enterprise segment (hence many different users and skills present), this is the best solution to go with. Thank you. – uxfelix Sep 16 '14 at 7:09
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Another possible way to rewrite this with positive language is to frame the options as exceptions. The user is managing a list of exceptions and so the UI doesn't need the same negative language.

By default, all images and their entire meta data are indexed.

EXCEPTIONS
The following will not be indexed
[✔️] GPS data
[✔️] Caption date
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You might try to re-word the dialog such that the meaning of the items and the checked state stays the same, but it no longer used a negation.

Perhaps:

By default, all images and their entire meta data are indexed.
[✔️] Skip indexing gps data
[✔️] Skip indexing caption date

This might not be as nice as doing the complete reversal, but you negate the risks involved changing the existing behavior, both in introducing bugs and in annoying existing users. It may not be possible everywhere without getting into rather strange language constructs though.

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