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Chapter Three. Meanings, Modes, Monotony... > Noun-Verb versus Verb-Noun Construct...

3-3. Noun-Verb versus Verb-Noun Constructions

A large class of commands involve applying an action to an object. In operating a word processor, for example, you might take a paragraph and change its typeface; in this case, the object is the paragraph, and the action is the selection of a new font. The interface can allow you to sequence the operations in two ways. You choose either (1) the verb (change font) first and then select the noun (the paragraph) to which the verb should apply or (2) the noun first and then apply the verb. At first glance, it would seem that the situation is symmetrical and the order is of no importance, but in most interface designs, the situation is not symmetrical, and the order (either noun-verb or verb-noun)[6] makes a significant difference in usability.

[6] The terminology object-action versus action-object is also used.

Most interface guidelines correctly recommend noun-verb interaction (Apple 1987, Hewlett Packard 1987, IBM 1988, Microsoft 1995). A locus-of-attention analysis shows the benefits.


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