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About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design by David Cronin, Robert Reimann, Alan Cooper

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Chapter 21. Controls

Controls are manipulable, self-contained screen objects through which people interact with digital products. Controls (otherwise known as widgets, gadgets, and gizmos) are the primary building blocks for creating a graphical user interface.

Examined in light of users’ goals, controls come in four basic flavors: imperative controls, used to initiate a function; selection controls, used to select options or data; entry controls, used to enter data; and display controls, used to directly manipulate the program visually. Some controls combine one or more of these flavors.

Most of the controls that we are familiar with are those that come standard with Windows, the Mac OS, and other common windowing interfaces. This set of canned controls has always been very limited in scope and power.

Avoiding Control-Laden Dialog Boxes

The easiest thing to build in most windowing systems is a dialog box. The dialog box facility offers automatic tools for specifying how and where controls will be placed. Unfortunately, it’s quite easy for developers to create user interfaces composed mostly of control-laden dialog boxes. It’s much more difficult to create a visual interface with direct manipulation idioms that are consistent with user mental models and workflows. As a result, most existing literature covers the canned-control world reasonably well, while ignoring other approaches. However, control-laden dialog boxes are not the key to successful user-interface design. (For more about ...

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