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I just wanted to rename a Word document while I was working in Word.

You know what comes next. In practically every application out there, I have two choices:

  1. Close the app. Navigate to the file in Windows Explorer and rename it. Double-click it to reopen the file.
  2. Within the app, do a Save as…. Optionally delete the old file name.

In both cases, both file names now appear in the Most Recently Used list, even though the old file may no longer exist. Yawn. We know how this works.

But can you learned this? Didn’t it seem a little odd?

Can you remember the first time you tried to teach this to your non-geek relatives? Can you remember them saying, “That’s dumb, that’s confusing”? And then you said either, “But it’s easy enough” or “That’s just the way it works.”

Why is it just the way it works? Because we geeks have spent decades telling ourselves that this is normal. It’s a tradition going back at least as far as the Unix mv command, which can be used to move a file to a new folder but can also be used to rename a file. It’s the same way of thinking – a design way of thinking, not a requirements way of thinking – that says “If we have Create, and we have Delete, then we have Edit, because we can always just Delete and then Create again.” We geeks have just accepted “Save As and Delete” as normal.

Well, it’s not normal. We’re overlooking the obvious: if so many users need to be taught a complicated way to rename a file, it’s because users need a simple way to rename a file! Except in a few superior designed programs, we don’t have a way, we have a workaround. It’s just that we know this workaround so well, we think of it as normal.

Talk about not designing for the user experience! Somewhere right now, Alan Cooper is shaking his head in disgust…

Well, not for me, not any more! From now on, every file-based app I write will have a Rename command right up there with Save and Open; and when you rename, it will clean up the MRU list as well.

Ironically, you know what’s one of my favorite features in Visual Studio? It’s the way you can rename a file in the Solution Explorer, and then it asks if you want to rename the class to match the file, and it just correctly applies the rename everywhere (except in comments).

This is so easy, so convenient; yet somehow, I’ve been overlooking that convenience when it comes to my users. Have you?

Posted on Wednesday, February 25, 2009 12:10 PM Requirements Patterns and Antipatterns , Code is not Enough | Back to top

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