Workshop 3:  HCI Pattern Language

The goals of an HCI pattern language

Example Pattern


Description @ Your Fingertips

Pattern title
Sensitizing example
You are putting interactive objects on a dynamic medium such as a screen and you want to provide various levels of context sensitive help supporting uninterruptable tasks

Extensive explanations tend to clutter the interface but users may need such help.  They do not want to leave the context of their current task, and experts may not want to see the help at all.

Problem statement
In the Mac OS, a small balloon of textual help appears when the user turns on this feature and moves the mouse over an object.  In Windows Tool Tips the same happens if the mouse hovers over an object.  In Netscape, the URL of a link is displayed in a fixed position at the bottom of the screen if the cursor is moved over it.  In a voice mailbox, options are explained if the user waits for a while. Existing examples
provide a short description of the object either close to it or in a fixed position.  Let users turn it on and off or only provide it on some explicit user action (e.g., hovering).
Formation of a general solution

Alternative representation:

     On <start trigger>
          give <description>
          at <location>
     On <end trigger>
          extinguish <description>

You can use three-state buttons to implement descriptions like this.  Longer explanations can go into on-line help, possibly delivered via an intelligent agent, or in the manual. Reference to constituent / related patterns



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Lyn Pemberton (

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