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Tool tips

Anybody have advice on when to create tool tips?  Our product department wants us to create tool tips for every field and every button, but I argue that they are sometimes superflous.  As an example, for a person's name, they want the tooltip to be "The person's full name."
I can see the value of tool tips on buttons and other "actionable" components.

Any ideas?
Ken Send private email
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Like anything else on the page, a tooltip should help the user complete their task faster and easier.  Leading from this, I believe tooltips shouldn't regurgitate what is already bloody obvious; they should focus more on 'how' instead of 'what'.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
I agree with Amazinderek. I can easily imagine than superfluous tooltips decrease usability. When the tooltip appears, the user drawn to read it. If the tooltip replicates something that's already labelled or completely obvious, you've just wasted 0.1 secs of user's time and more importantly, distracted him or her.

If something is already has a label, don't add an equivalent tooltip. If something doesn't have a label, something seemingly obvious may benefit from a tooltip. For example, it might be useful to differentiate between given names and family name, in case the name is foreign.

So, unless some widely followed platform guideline requires it, I would consider giving every widget a tooltip a bad idea.
Aapo Laitinen Send private email
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Agreed. Common Sense is the mandate here.

You might propose a tooltip only arises when a user asks a question during usability testing. If you find the user asking "What does First Name" mean; perhaps, then, you might want to elaborate.

Additionally, consider leaving the work of actually setting that text to those individuals who feels 'everything needs a tooltip' . . . then, perhaps, they may come to your terms?
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Put them everywhere, then measure it?  Why Be Right[tm] when you can make an informed decision?
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
How about a setting to allow different level of tips in a option or preference dialog. You could start with them all enabled and let the user select what they need...

Show tool tips on:
Text Fields

TownDrunk Send private email
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Total overkill IMHO. Don't pass your own indecisiveness onto the user.
John Topley Send private email
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
I've always believe that tooltips [should] add words where necessary.  It's the "where necessary" part that matters. 

Icons don't have words, so they need an explanation - tooltip. 

A complicated control might need a description - tooltip.

A *labeled* field already has the words there.  Unless there's some reason it need more words (like circumstances suggested above), no tooltip.
EAW Send private email
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Your customers shouldn't be making those kinds of decisions.

You gotta remember with tooltips - if somebody DOESN'T see it is it going to cause them problems? So if the name field requires that people enter in their middle names then you shouldn't be putting that in a tooltip - plenty of people will miss it.
Colm O'Connor Send private email
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
What EAW said.  You should only use tooltips if there's no alternative.  An icon in the system tray can't have a label to explain it, so you use a tooltip instead.  Likewise for some icons in the toolbar.  But putting tooltips on controls that have room to be labelled is worse than redundant: it's annoying.

Keep in mind what a tooltip is: It's a popup, temporary label.  It should only be used where (as in the above examples) you can't use a permanent label.
Kyralessa Send private email
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
We never use Tooltips because we have to worry about Frenchification up here in Canada, and we decided the hassle of translating the Tooltips far exceeded the miniscule benefit they offer. I guess they might be worth it in some apps, but personally I hardly ever use them.
NetFreak Send private email
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Tooltips do have their uses.

Tooltips are great in places like Explorer where long filenames are truncated (sensibly, showing the beginning and end of the filename with the ellipses in the middle) but upon hovering over it the whole name is visible in a tooltip.

However, in the name example, I have found that either the system has a very local applicability, and so if you particularly want firstnames split from lastnames then a single "name" label and two textboxes beside one another is obvious.  There is no need for Firstname or Lastname or whatever labels for each textbox.  Infact, One intranet app I've seen prepopulates these fields with their label, but makes it a faded colour and italic so it is obvious the data hasn't yet been entered.  But that is digression.  In an international app, or even one for an audience with mixed ethenticity, strict firstname and lastname are asking for trouble.  A single field should suffice, or some kind of "formal" and "informal" name split if you plan on doing mail merges.

To illustrate what I mean: when entering an IP address, do you have each byte separately labelled?  Why would names be different?
new nick, new rep
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
"Total overkill IMHO. Don't pass your own indecisiveness onto the user."

Hmmm... Giving the users options is overkill? I don't see anything wrong with giving the users options to adjust from being a new user to a more advanced user.
My wife calls me %$%#@#@
Wednesday, June 15, 2005

I certainly regard having options for a large category of things that can possibly display tooltips as overkill.
John Topley Send private email
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
I think tool tips are very much needed. I myself use them all the time especially for thing like unlabeled icons and fields which must be entered in a particular format. For instance a Name field would probably not need a tool tip unless your program requires that the name be entered in a certain format.

In my current project I'm giving the user the option of
1) Displaying tool tips as the standard popup labels
2) Displaying tool tips in the status bar at the bottom of the screen where they are less obtrusive but there if you want to read them ...or...
3) Turning tool tips off completely.

A new user may want the tool tips but after they have used the program for a while they probably never want to see them again. These options should make everyone happy. It's just a simple menu choice.

I wouldn't, however, include any tool tips for obvious field under any circumstances.
Deborah Send private email
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
As a side note, I'm getting really tired of these IDE's that want to pop up autocomplete and intellisense features when there is absolutely no reason to do so. I'm talking about times when I'm sitting on a blank line and they pop up some huge window with everything under the sun in it. Don't try to show me every possible thing that I could type on a blank line! That is just plain annoying! Let me type a class name and period first then pop up a list of methods for the class. That will suffice! Anything more is totally unusable. JBuilder is the biggest culprit in this regard but the new Intellisense in VS.NET 2005 has really been making me upset recently.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
I recently downloaded the latest minor update of my bank's home-banking software. It's a VB app, not a web-based app.

Among other little things, they added tooltips on all cells of the transfers table. e.g. when you hover a payment recipient name, there's a tooltip with his account number.

I rarely saw more annoying a feature. wherever you put your mouse, there comes a completely useless tooltip that even sometimes prevents me from reading useful information.

It was a good try but I don't understand which moron decided to keep this feature. You don't even need usability testing to realize it's a pain for users.

Conclusion: I second all those who said 'Toolitps are a great invention. But don't overuse them'.
Serge Wautier Send private email
Saturday, June 25, 2005

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