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In an application I have inherited there is an image viewer. The viewer can undertake various different functionalities such as zoom or pan etc. At the moment it has a icon in the top right corner for what functionality it is currently set too. I was wondering whether or not it would be better to get the cursor to change instead. If this was clearer etc.

Any thoughts?

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Simply put, I'd do both. Give your users what they are already used to with the icon, and then implement the hover over change in the mouse cursor. This will give the user the best user experience.

  • Just one thing I forgot to mention, the icon is on the viewer so obstructs part of the image, would you still leave it? – TheLethalCoder Apr 9 '15 at 14:52
  • Maybe. It would depend on A/B testing. Do most users find it distracting or would it be better to have it appear when you hover over that area? To me ... if it wasn't there, how would I know to go there in the first place to get the hover to appear? – Code Maverick Apr 9 '15 at 14:56
  • No problem at all. I hope you get it all figured out with some A/B testing! – Code Maverick Apr 9 '15 at 15:12
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Use the cursor if you can

Image editors have been around for along time so this is a deeply tested approach.

  1. Image editing can demand a lot of concentration. Users who are focused on editing image details will have a very narrow field of vision, and will tend to ignore the periphery of a screen, so it's much more effective to have the cursor indicate the active tool because it is going to be collocated with the user's focus.

  2. A common pattern for image editing is to have a toolbox or palette of tools, and indicate the active tool using (a) the cursor, and (b) some shading or embossing in the palette. This avoids the need for a separate icon in the window (in your case, the icon is intrusive on the image which is even worse).

    Example: A tool palette with selected lasso tool in Adobe Photoshop:

    enter image description here

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    i thought of this same example - great points all around. – DaveAlger Apr 9 '15 at 18:05
  • I agree with most of the points however so you know it is an viewer, not en editor. I'm aware viewers have similar toolbars but due to an already crowded interface I can't really add one. I do like it though and did think of it previously, thanks for the response. – TheLethalCoder Apr 10 '15 at 9:36

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