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DECwindows Companion to the OSF/Motif Style Guide

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2.10 Items in the View Menu

The View menu is optional. It contains items that change the user's view, but not the actual data.

For example, in Figure 2-15, the first group of items changes the entire view by displaying a tree or outline view; the second group expands or collapses the items in the view.

The Expand menu item expands the currently selected item one level deeper. Expand Full expands the selected items to their full depth. Expand All expands all the items to their full depth.

Collapse contracts the selected items. Collapse All contracts all the items.

Figure 2-15 A View Menu and Its Menu Items

2.11 Items in the Options Menu

Provide commands in the Options menu for customizing your application. The menu items in the Options menu depend on your application. Give the Options menu a mnemonic of O. For more information and an example of an Options menu, see Section 3.1 and Figure 3-1.

2.12 Items in the Help Menu

The Help pull-down menu can contain any of the items shown in Figure 2-16.

Note that OSF/Motif does not require your application to have all these items on a Help menu. However, if your application has one of these items, it must conform to OSF/Motif specifications.

Include only the Help menu items that your application supports.

Figure 2-16 A Help Menu and Its Menu Items

The following list shows the menu items and the results when users choose them:

Context-sensitive Help

Initiates context-sensitive help by changing the shape of the pointer to a question mark. The user then moves the pointer to the area or item on which help is needed and presses MB1. After the selection, the pointer returns to its previous shape.


Provides a brief description of the current window. The description includes information about the function of the window and the tasks that users can perform using that window.


Gives users an index to all help information in the application.


Shows the meanings assigned to keys, especially function keys, by your application. You can use a Shortcuts menu (Shortcuts) instead of the Keyboard menu item to show the meanings of both key and button bindings.


Provides access to an online tutorial about your application.


Provides an alphabetical list of terms used in the online help.

Using Help

Provides information on how to use the help facility.

Product Information

Provides information about your application, including the name, version, date, and copyright data.

Place any additional menu items between Index and Using Help.

For information about designing and writing online help, see Chapter 5.

2.13 Items in the Windows Menu

The Windows menu is optional. If your application uses multiple main windows, place the titles of currently active primary windows in the Windows menu. When a user selects a title from the Windows menu, display that window. A Windows menu gives the user immediate access to any active primary windows in your application without the need to shuffle through the windows on the screen. In some instances, you might also want to place the names of currently active secondary windows in the Windows menu.

Figure 2-17 shows an example of a Windows menu.

Figure 2-17 A Windows Menu

Chapter 3
Customizing the Interface

Design your application so that it follows the principles of good user interface design, as explained in the OSF/Motif Style Guide. In addition, design your application so that users can customize important functions to meet their specific needs. Customization is discussed only in this document and not in the OSF/Motif Style Guide.

Allow users to customize your application by using menus and dialog boxes. Provide an Options menu in your application to help users tailor the application to their needs.

No matter what type of user interface you are creating, consider allowing users to customize the following:

  • Window positions
  • Colors
  • Size and rendition of text
Other types of customization depend on your application. These types of customization include startup procedures, keyboard accelerators, and print and plot settings.

This chapter provides general guidelines for customizing your application, and some specific guidelines for customizing startup procedures, window positions, colors, and text.

3.1 General Guidelines for Providing Customization Features

Allow users to customize your application by using the Options menu. Divide this menu into at least two sections. In the top section, place the items needed to customize specific features of the application. For example:

  • Command menu items
  • Dialog menu items
  • Submenus containing command or dialog menu items

In the bottom section, place items for saving and restoring settings.

Figure 3-1 illustrates an example Options menu.

Figure 3-1 An Example Options Menu

If your application has more than one window, provide an Options menu in the main window to customize settings throughout the application. Then, give each additional window an Options menu for settings specific to it.

Place the Options menu on the menu bar to the right of all other menu names except Help.

Your application can provide customization of settings in windows at any level. Make customized settings apply to the window in which the user specifies it, as well as to all its descendant windows. In addition, allow a customized setting in a child window to override the same setting specified by its parent.

Customization can be inherited from a parent window or specified in a child window. For example, a dialog box inherits its font setting from the mail application that displays it unless the font is customized at the dialog box level. In Figure 3-2, several windows provide customization for a particular setting, represented by a shaded pull-down customization menu. The range of customizing at different levels is indicated by the shaded areas. The setting represented by each menu shade is in effect throughout the range of windows within the area of the same shade.

Figure 3-2 Range of Customization

If you do not provide customization in a window, or if the user has not chosen settings, have the window inherit its settings from its parent window.

Have your applications provide customization for each setting at the highest possible level at which the setting is meaningful. For example, customize a setting at the application level if it makes sense for each of the application's tools to share that setting.

In addition, applications can provide overriding customization in lower-level windows in the following situations:

  • The feature has particular significance or importance in the lower-level window.
    For example, in a mail application, users can customize the editor they use by choosing the Send... menu item from the Options menu in the main window. However, they can also change the editor in the Create window by choosing a menu item in the Change Editor menu.
  • The feature will be changed frequently in the lower-level window.
    For example, in a mail application, users can customize their personal names by choosing the Send... menu item from the Options menu. However, because users may want to change their personal name frequently depending on the content of the message, they can also change their personal names in the Create window.

Retain the results of settings until users exit the application, unless the users save them. When users exit the application, consider having a dialog box that asks them to save settings.

If users save the settings, use them the next time the application is invoked and have the settings remain in effect until users choose new settings.

3.2 Designing Options Menu Items and Dialog Boxes

Give the Options menu and associated dialog boxes all the customization features appropriate for your application. However, excessive or gratuitous customization can overload the user with too many decisions to make. It may not be necessary to include all the customization described in this chapter in your application.

Know your users' needs; provide flexible customization options for important features, but select a good standard setting and provide no customization for unimportant features. Provide customization for features that will help users feel more comfortable and in control, and that will make their tasks easier to perform. When appropriate, provide a list of common defaults rather than an open-ended text field. Use an option menu widget or a list box for the list of defaults. Such lists enable users to customize the application rapidly.

Remember that even if your application is not being translated, it may be used throughout the world by people for whom English is a second language, so you might want to allow users to customize time, date, and monetary units.

As you design your application, you may become aware of different ways to allow users to do the same thing. In such cases, consider providing settings that enable users to choose the method they prefer. For example, the Motif window manager allows users to choose between an explicit (click-to-type) and an implicit (pointer) focus policy.

You can add menu items, submenus, and menu items that lead to dialog boxes. The following sections give you a few guidelines for adding menu items and dialog boxes.

3.2.1 Adding Command Menu Items

Use menu items to allow users to customize one setting at a time. For example, use a check box in a menu such as Highlight Changes to allow users to turn highlighting on or off.

If you have a menu with many items, group them within the menu by using separators, like the example Options menu shown in Figure 3-1.

For more information on designing menus, see Chapter 2.

3.2.2 Adding Dialog Boxes

Use dialog boxes to allow users to customize several things at once. Decide when to make separate dialog boxes for customizing. For example, decide whether to make a single dialog box for customizing text and color options, or whether to make a separate dialog box for each.

Here are a few guidelines for using dialog boxes:

  • Find logical groupings of customizable features.
    For example, group all choices for customizing text (font, rendition, point size) in one dialog box, and all choices for customizing graphical objects (color, thickness of lines) in another.
    Involve users to tell you what they think is a logical group. You do not need a working prototype to do this. Consider giving users a generic dialog box drawn on paper and cutouts of controls that they can arrange, or having them redraw dialog boxes using a graphics editor or other prototyping tool.
  • Provide feedback areas or include an Apply push button to show the effects of various settings without actually changing them.
    See the Sample Text section of Figure 3-3 for an example.
  • Include a Reset button so users can reset the information in the dialog box without canceling it.
  • Keep an appropriate number of tab groups in one box; avoid clutter.
    Involve users so that they can let you know when they feel you are putting too many options in one dialog box.
  • Use an option menu widget, list box, or other widget to provide a list of the default values for options. Whenever possible, avoid using open-ended text fields or numeric scale widgets.
    The following figure illustrates an inappropriate and an appropriate way to enable users to customize the icon size.

    When full user flexibility is needed, include an Other option. When the user selects Other, enable a text field as shown in the following figure.

Figure 3-3 Feedback Area Labeled "Sample Text"

3.3 Guidelines for Customizing Windows, Color, and Text

This section provides specific guidelines on customizing the following:

  • Window positions
  • Colors
  • Size and rendition of text

3.3.1 Window Positions and Sizes

Allow users to customize and save the positions of windows so that each time they invoke the application, the windows appear in the same positions. There are several ways to do this:

  • Save the positions and sizes of windows automatically when users exit the application.
  • Use the Options menu item Save Options to save the positions of windows automatically, in addition to saving other options.
  • Create a menu item in the Options menu called Save Window Positions.

Do not make users specify the X and Y pixel values for window positions. Users generally prefer direct manipulation. If you must provide window position dialog boxes that allow users to specify X and Y pixel values (for example, in a program where exact placement is very important), also provide a way for users to customize their window placement through direct manipulation.

3.3.2 Colors

Allow users to customize and save the colors of an application so that each time they invoke the application, the same colors appear. If you are using color to show scale or intensity, allow users to choose colors that are meaningful to them. Try to keep users from doing counterproductive things, such as making both the background and the foreground the same color.

Digital provides the Color Mixing widget that you can include in your application to enable users to customize their colors. The Color Mixing widget provides users with a consistent way to customize colors across applications. For information on the Color Mixing widget and on using color in your application, see Section 3.3.2.

If your application does not update color changes immediately, you might want to provide feedback by displaying a message dialog box that tells users when they will actually see the color changes take place.

3.3.3 Size and Rendition of Text

If your application uses text, allow users to customize that text by changing font family, point sizes, and rendition. Allow users to save customized text settings so that each time they invoke the application, the customized settings are invoked. If your application allows for limited customization of text, place the text customization menu items in the Options menu to be consistent with other aspects of customization. In cases where you allow extensive or sophisticated customization of text (in text processors, for example), provide a separate menu because your application will allow users to customize text in many different ways.

The way that you implement customization of text will depend on the number of different font families, point sizes, and renditions that you provide, and on how often users will be changing text settings.

If you supply a few choices, consider having one submenu that allows users to customize the font family, point size, and rendition, as in Figure 3-4.

Figure 3-4 Using One Menu to Customize Text

If there are more than a few choices and if users will not be customizing text often, consider having a series of submenus, as shown in Figure 3-5.

Figure 3-5 Using Several Menus to Customize Text

If users will be customizing text often, consider combining choices of font family, point size, and rendition into one dialog box to avoid making users pull down a series of menus to accomplish one task. For example, create a dialog box similar to the one in Figure 3-6.

Figure 3-6 Using a Dialog Box to Customize Text

Chapter 4
Using Color

This chapter discusses the following topics concerning color:

  • Why use color?
  • General guidelines and specific recommendations
  • Digital's Color Mixing widget

4.1 Why Use Color?

The primary reason for using color is to help users. Color can help users accomplish their tasks by:

  • Making important things stand out
    For example, in a spreadsheet, display all negative numbers, or the cells containing these numbers, in red.
  • Showing relationships among objects
    Use color to group related items. Displaying related objects in the same color can be especially useful in densely packed displays. For example, on a spreadsheet, group all income from one source in one color, and all income from another source in another color.
  • Allowing users to see differences quickly and consistently
    The eye is attracted to color over every other feature on an interface (except flashing). Thus, use color for important things such as error messages because users' eyes will be attracted quickly to the color.
  • Indicating keyboard focus
    For example, in a Motif environment, users can have many windows open at one time. Using a specific color border to indicate input focus helps users locate the window with keyboard focus quickly and consistently.

  • Corresponding with conventions used in certain professions
    For example, if your application helps people design objects such as maps or buildings, it is important to keep color connotations consistent between the traditional colors used on paper renderings and those appearing on line. For example, mapmakers might expect to see blue water in the maps they design with a survey application.

4.2 General Guidelines and Specific Recommendations

Remember that the purpose of using color is to help users accomplish tasks. Color is not always needed and may not be available. Never give your application color-specific features that disappear in a black and white interface. For these reasons, always design the interface for black and white (monochrome) displays first. The following list shows a few reasons to design in black and white first:

  • Some people are colorblind.
  • Your application might run on both color and monochrome displays.
  • Color printers are uncommon and expensive; many users may be printing on black and white printers.

4.2.1 Before You Select Colors

Before you select colors for your application, consider the following:

  • The visual abilities and disabilities of the users
  • The color preferences of the users (in terms of nationality, culture, background, previous experience, and so on)
  • The physical environment in which users use the computer (including the country, company, and specific work environment)
  • The areas where you want to focus the users' attention
  • The assignment of colors in related applications

4.2.2 After You Select the Colors

After you have selected some colors to work with, keep the following guidelines in mind:
  • Limit the number of colors.
    • Use color as a redundant cue. Make sure that users can identify an object by its shape or intensity in addition to its color. For example, stop signs in the U.S. and many parts of Europe are identified by their red color and octagonal shape.
    • Use color sparingly. Never vary the color just for variety. Try to use only four or fewer colors in one window, and try to use only seven or fewer colors in an entire application. Research has shown that users have trouble distinguishing among more than seven colors in a user interface.
    • Minimize the use of bright, saturated colors. Limit them to items that must be noticed. If you overuse these colors, the attention-getting properties will be lost.
    • Use white, black, or shades of grey for objects (like text) that users will view for a long time.
    • Do not depend on subtle changes in color to convey important information. Users may not notice the change.
  • Have a purpose for each color
    • Reserve red for warnings and negative numbers (at least in European and American displays, where red connotes danger). Because it is the most noticeable color, use it with care and use an unsaturated red color. The full red color may be too jarring for users.
    • Provide a color key so that users can compare colors if you use a color code as a primary coding mechanism.
    • Use color codes only under the following circumstances:
      • When users are already familiar with a color code
      • When you must catch the users' attention
      • When users must search for categories of information
      • When related applications use a color code
    • Do not use the same color to represent two different meanings.
    • Use existing conventions for color codes whenever possible, such as red for deficits and black for profits in business applications.
    • Make sure that the colors you use do not conflict with color connotations in other countries, if your application will be used in those countries. Or allow users to customize their colors.
  • Be careful about what colors you use together.
    • Do not use color coding for displays located in the periphery of the screen. Color receptors are located mainly in the focus point of the eye; thus, users may have difficulty perceiving colors located on the periphery.
    • Make adjacent colors differ in at least two of the three primary colors (red, green, blue), so that color-weak users will be more likely to distinguish the differences.
    • Do not require users to distinguish between green and red without other cues; green-red color confusion is the most common type of color weakness.
    • Be aware of the colors surrounding colored targets. Avoid situations where the simultaneous contrast effect could allow users to misinterpret information. For example, a yellow symbol will appear greener when surrounded by red, and redder when surrounded by green.
    • Display bright colors on dim backgrounds, or dim colors on bright backgrounds. This maximizes the contrast.
    • Do not use blue for characters, lines, or edges, unless your intent is to make the object look indistinct and fade into the background. Blue is difficult to see. If used for edges or text, these items will appear fuzzy and blurred.
    • Do not use saturated red and blue in adjacent areas; these colors induce a disturbing depth effect.
    • Do not use saturated red and green in adjacent areas. These colors can induce a disturbing spurious motion effect.
      For more information about using color, see the list of references in Appendix C.

Specific Recommendations

Here are some specific recommendations to follow concerning color in dialog boxes, menus, and pointers.

  • Dialog Boxes
    Arrange and design dialog boxes for monochrome displays. There is probably no reason to use color for the objects in a dialog box, unless it is a dialog box for selecting colors, as in a drawing or painting program.
  • Menus
    Design menus, like dialog boxes, for a monochrome display. The primary instance in which you need to use color in menus is when you create a menu for choosing colors. There are a few other cases when color can be helpful in menus, for example, using red letters for a menu item labeled "Important."
  • Pointers
    Make sure that the pointer is visible over all areas of the screen. Using black with a white border is probably the safest choice, even with color displays.

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