Consistency in keyboard shortcuts

28Dec09

Over the weekend, I helped one of my relatives with a computer question that should have been very easy to answer. In short, he needed to switch the video output on his laptop from the built-in screen to an external monitor. After a bunch of trial and error, we figured out the right keyboard shortcut, which was the “Fn” key plus the F5 key.

Why was this so difficult? For starters, this particular shortcut seems to be different on every make and model of computer. I think my laptop uses Fn+F7, while others use Fn+F8 or even F10. Making matters worse, the icon that appears on the keys varies a lot, so there’s no obvious way to figure out the feature from the image alone.

How can computer manufacturers improve this situation? Two solutions come to mind. First, they should try to use the same keys for a given feature. If Fn+F8 is the most popular, they should default to that in future models. Second, they could try using similar icon designs on the keys, or at least write out the feature, e.g. “Switch Monitor”.

Wishful thinking? Probably. But given how cheap it would be to just adopt a standard way of accessing and identifying this type of feature, maybe some computer designers will eventually get it right.



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