Keeping in focus

When designing a UI, even the smallest problems can throw off the user pretty significantly, to the point where your application becomes unusable. As such, it’s incredibly important to make your interface as intuitive as possible.

I faced a problem in this vein when doing some holiday family tech support recently: a newly installed application on my grandfather’s computer didn’t take focus when launched, leading him to:

  • Launch the app about twenty times in a row, leading to runaway processes and a very cluttered taskbar
  • Fail to actually use the app as intended
  • Call me

The moral of the story: have your app steal focus.

But wait! In the process of fixing something else later that very day, I had to launch Word 2011 for the Mac. This application had the opposite problem: it stole focus for the loading screen, then twice for the main document window (no kidding; it focused on a blank document, I tabbed away, then it forcibly switched focus back to the same blank document after another fraction of a second).

So the real moral of the story: have your app steal focus exactly once.