At present I’m building an intranet site which will be used for displaying quite a lot of wordy content. The core of the site is an area which is displaying the equivalent of 80+ Word documents (I know because some poor bugger had to copy and paste them into the admin system I wrote). While designing all the forms and thinking of the layout of buttons, text fields and the like, I started paying a lot of attention to how far the mouse pointer has to travel as you narrow down the information.
For instance, I added a “view” icon to the right hand side of the list of documents, so as the user scrolls down the page they don’t have to move the pointer too far from the scroll bar to the view icon. I was asked if the icon was necessary, as you can also view the document by clicking on its title. Maybe because I was talking to managment (or maybe because I was being a smart arse!) I answered that having the icon “reduced the mouse miles for the user.”
At the time I was more pleased that I’d gotten away with throwing in some reasonably clever BS than I was with the implications of the term. However, further down the line I have had nothing but positive feedback regarding the positioning of the icons and other items on the screen. That little boost has made me concentrate on the “mouse miles” aspect even more – I’m paying more attention to far the mouse has to travel around the screen in order for the user to progress. Taking it one step further, when someone clicks on either a submit button or a link to jump to another page, the mouse pointer will be left sitting on screen roughly where it was when they clicked. So it makes sense to arrange the next screen with that in mind.
Some of the above might seem obvious and common sense, but it’s amazing how easy it is to create aesthetics at the expense of the interface. The best thing about it is that the end user wont even notice for the most part – and that’s exactly what making a site more usable is about.