Vexing dialogues

I’ve been somewhat vexed recently by dialogue boxes similar to this one, from my smart phone:

Delete Mail

I read the question “Delete Mail?”, i.e. “Would you like to delete this mail?”, and then search the buttons for the answer, which I expect to be “Yes” or “No’. As these options are not given, I’m forced to pause for a micro-second to “translate” the answer to the action described on the buttons.

The trend is to make dialogues more usable by using verbs as button texts (or at least starting the text with a verb). They generate the best click rates (though the quality of those clicks, in terms of whether the user chose the right button, isn’t measured). The logic is that users know what they are trying to do and so will immediately choose the correct button. Better still, by specifying the action on the button the user doesn’t need to read the question at all.

In which case, why bother providing any text in the dialogue at all?

All very logical, though there are clear security and privacy issues in “encouraging” users to skip reading texts in this way. But, if this is the case, shouldn’t usability experts and form designers now be ensuring that the text and the buttons match up? After all, usability isn’t about usability for some, or even usability for the majority – it’s about usability for all.  And though many (perhaps most) people don’t read the dialogue text, should those people who do be penalised?

Testing texts

I agree that dialogue boxes containing long, complex texts can be a trial. You get to the end and are still unsure if “Yes” or “No” is the correct answer, which is, frankly, down to poor design. But where the form is being used by people who don’t master the language, the easier the text and answer, the better.

I’ve no problem in using verbs in dialogues, when they fit the context of that dialogue. Using “Get started”, for example, instead of “OK” on a form to register for a website is obviously going to work. But extrapolating a trend without consideration for what is being asked is going too far and is likely to be counter-productive.

Accepting that verbs are helpful to users, wouldn’t the dialogue above be better with the button texts “No, cancel” and “Yes, delete”? Or wouldn’t the dialogue text be better if it reflected the answer buttons: “Delete mail, or cancel?”. Would this really be unacceptable, or too long to use on a mobile screen?

Would using “Yes, delete” to save my stutter at the keyboard cause others to stutter because they expect to see only “Delete”? Does slowing down a process for some users to speed it up for others make sense? In any case, I’d like to see some research which quantifies any effects.

Me, I’m vexed.  What about you?