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Chapter 45. New Media > Mix-in Media

Mix-in Media

In much the same way that common internal capabilities can be combined through multiple inheritance and mix-in programming, visual components and interaction idioms can be combined to create new capabilities that are immediately recognizable and usable to users even without prompting or instruction. For example, in many applications dependent on databases or persistent objects, usage can be simplified through use of arrays of displayed items that allow editing in place, with data cells serving both for display of values and input of new values. If the editable cells in the display resemble entry fields, their potential behavior is suggested to the user. New users are likely to guess the behavior correctly and will try editing such fields in the course of exploring the interface.

Some systems go another step in combining features within such display grids, embedding a selection list within the individual cells of some columns. If only a fixed set of values are acceptable, as in a field for company department codes, direct selection by the user can lead to less typing and fewer errors. When cells that function as drop-down selection lists look no different from any other, clicking on or tabbing to them may result in seemingly bizarre and unexpected behavior from the software or can leave the user unaware of all the possibilities. The simple expedient of making such cells resemble drop-down lists or “combo boxes” makes their meaning clear and their usage apparent. A small button-like rectangle at the right end of each such cell, with a downward-pointing triangle and “push affordance,” invites the user to click on the button and to expect to see a selection list drop down.


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