Raymond has a short musing about why it’s not a good idea to just punt on difficult questions and ask the user. Makes me think of the good old days on Access – I seem to remember one usability person saying that some non-trivial percentage of users always reacted to dialog boxes by immediately hitting Return, thus chosing the default option. As a programmer writing UI at the time, I found that fact extremely frightening given the number of dialog boxes I had authored.
But what this really makes me think of is a usability test they did on Access one day to see how effective text placed in the status bar was. The test went like this: the user was given some task to do in Access. Unbeknownst to them, we’d stuck a message in the status bar that read “If you notice this message and tell the usability lead, we will give you $15.” Want to guess how many people got the $15? Zero. After that, we were careful not to put any important information down in the status bar, because it was 100% likely that no one would ever see it.
Instead, the status bar is just a nice little waste of screen real estate where we can put cute, innocuous little messages like “Done” (Internet Exporer at the moment) or “Ready” (Visual Studio at the moment).