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Is there a way to teach, persuade or force users to learn to use the Tab and Enter keys to navigate simple forms, instead of clicking the next field with the mouse? This is such a productivity-killer that I think a law should be passed.

The simplest example is a login form: 2 fields. I painfully watch everyone including experienced users click in the username field (even though the cursor was already blinking there), type their name, then grab the mouse, click in the password field, type, then grab the mouse and click the submit or login button... They never learn, and they log in to things dozens of times a day! It would be like watching a driver get out and push their car in to a parking space. Can we not disable the mouse and teach people to do what is far easier for them, faster, more error-free...?

To me, this is the single largest user-interface / usability issue.

  • I won't even get in to the issue that in a login form, you can and probably have stored your name and password in systems that you use often, and only need to type the first letter of username, hit down arrow, then Enter and you are logged in. Watching people retype a username and password that is already clearly there on the screen is a punishment only Kafka could imagine. – user67695 May 7 '15 at 15:17
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    You would have to universally instill confidence in your users that pressing tab is going to land them on the exact field which they are expecting. If you have a "Forgot Password" link on the page then should that tab index be 2, 3 or 4? It also doesn't help that many designs seem to minify the impact of a focused style or it is non-existent. Also, <sarcasm>don't forget that EVERYTHING is supposed to work like Excel; pressing tab should move from left to right and the Enter key should go to the field located below...</sarcasm> – MonkeyZeus May 7 '15 at 15:26
  • @MonkeyZeus: I think that left to right and top down is the solution to that. But I don't see it as a confidence issue at all. It simply never occurs to people to even try the Tab key, as if they didn't learn that they could. It is an issue of awareness. How do we get people to think of tabbing rather than mousing? I grew up without a mouse, so I fight tooth and nail to use more efficient and easier ways of navigating. Tab is the most basic, and has always existed in forms, even before the GUI. Why did it disappear from peoples' awareness? – user67695 May 7 '15 at 15:30
  • Coding Horror article from 2006... blog.codinghorror.com/logging-in-with-the-keyboard – user67695 May 7 '15 at 18:55
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    Have you ever asked a user if they thought logging in was too slow and what they would do to make it faster? – Nathan Rabe Jul 7 '15 at 15:45
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A message near the mouse cursor that says "You can [tab] to move between fields!" would at least get the message out. It could fade after a few seconds and only appear once to minimize distraction.

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Learned helplessness is going to forever be your enemy.

No matter what you do to make your login form super-efficient, there will always be some other forms out there. As soon as a user tries to tab on a poorly designed login page and the focus jumps to some random link, or completely fails to appear, they will fall back on their trusty click-to-input method. They'll learn that a fancy trick like tabbing isn't reliable enough to remember or try next time.

That's not a license to design for the lowest common denominator, though. Efficiency improvements like tabbing are what sets the novice users apart from the power users, and mastering the idiosyncrasies around when you can and cannot tab becomes a point of pride to those users. But you can't force them to reach that point. They have to get there on their own.

  • Maybe it is time for "the Internet Highway" to get a few basic traffic laws. – user67695 May 30 '17 at 13:37
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It comes down to "how do we teach people how to greatly improve their own experience with the computer?", which is not really about the UX, or UI, or US or any other U, it is about just plain I. What do I want from using a computer? For most people, apparently speed and ease do not come to awareness.

If I was going to try to remedy this one issue, my login screen would somehow disable the mouse and remove the submit button, have only the two fields, and have huge letters that say "Use Tab to move between fields, and Enter to submit." But then, we can't really do that, can we? An insoluble problem.

  • As tempted as I am to accept my own answer, the actual solution will be something else entirely, which makes visual / screen / keyboard UI moot. – user67695 May 30 '17 at 13:40

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