If somebody wants to shift text elements within a Word document from one position to another, he usually uses the mouse. This procedure is rather cumbersome for the user, since he first needs to click and highlight the text element before he can put it at the appropriate place.
The user could avoid such complications by using a few shortcut keys, so-called hotkeys, instead. However, users frequently do not know enough keyboard shortcuts to work with them efficiently, or are not aware of the available combinations.
Gilles Bailly, researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics and the Cluster of Excellence at Saarland University in Germany wants to increase the use of hotkeys among less-experienced users and help them maximise expert performance by using consistent shortcuts.
To accomplish this, Bailly developed a special interface mechanism in collaboration with other researchers from several universities. It enables hotkey browsing, supports physical rehearsal and assures rapid hotkey identification.
“To see the hotkeys, the user needs to press a certain key button,” said Sylvain Malacria from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.
He calls this special key the modifier. On an Apple keyboard, this function is taken by the command key; at a Windows computer, by the control key.
As soon as the user has pressed the modifier, the software overlaps the icons on the screen, as for example all the symbols in a toolbar for a Word document, with shortcuts for a few seconds.
Thus, the interface mechanisms shows small boxes in which every equivalent keyboard shortcut is displayed. In doing so, users who rarely use the computer are given the essential hints to apply the shortcuts until they know them by heart.
The programme supports them by proposing the hotkeys very quickly; they need only press the modifier key. To use the shortcuts more generally, the user frequently has to repeat the same finger moves. In this way, the user keeps remembering the key combinations.
“If the user is in the middle of a workflow, he does not need to remove his hands from the keyboard and reach for the mouse. He is able to enter his commands into the computer directly,” said Bailly.