Keep the Focus on the Input

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Software should learn to settle down and keep the focus on one thing at a time.


I have a consistent problem with two applications—Evernote and Safari. Both will initially put the focus in one location, but then move or remove it, discarding user input.

I need to punt on Evernote for the moment, because something in my registry is preventing the latest client from installing.

A disappearing Safari

When you launch Safari or open a new tab, the input focus starts out in the URL address bar, and stays there for long enough for you to begin typing.

But then the browser decides to start loading its Top Sites display, which deletes everything you have typed, and then restores the focus to a blank URL address box, where you must retype whatever you had previously entered.

There are two easy solutions:

  1. Don’t type until you see the tab content finish loading.
  2. Configure Safari to open a blank page instead.

Neither solution is good—the problem is with the code, not the user, and the Apple programmers should fix it. Information that users have entered must not be obliterated just because the program hasn’t finished its setup or pre-processing.

Please don’t let your software do this. Go find a two big blank whiteboards, and draw a proper flowchart directly from your production code on the first. Then gather your team around, and draw a new one that meets the team’s or product manager’s objective, but never moves the input focus while the user is entering information, and never deletes it without on its own.

If you need more than one whiteboard for each flowchart, you have probably created code or a process that is too complex.

Now go forth and simplicate.

Author: Peter Sheerin

Peter Sheerin is best known for the decade he spent as the Technical Editor of CADENCE magazine, where he was the acknowledged expert in Computer-Aided Design hardware and software. He has a long-standing passion for improving usability of software, hardware, and everyday objects that is always interwoven in his articles. Peter is available for freelance technical writing and product reviews, and is exploring career opportunities in interaction design. His pet personal project is exploring the best ways to harmonize visual, tactile, and audible symbols for improving the effectiveness of alerting systems.

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