Tip the tool: How to label toolbar functions

Toolbar functions should be labeled consistently starting with a verb which is followed by noun or adverb. We present recommendations to label the functions on Libreoffice' standard toolbar.

Naming Convention

Suitability for learning and self-descriptiveness, two of the basic usability goals, depend largely on the information users can read directly. Most graphical user interfaces use toolbar buttons to provide access to core functions. Those buttons usually contain an icon but no caption. The function is revealed by common sense (left most icon provides New), iconic depiction (a floppy points to Save), and tooltips that are shown when the mouse hovers the control. Obviously the latter are most important and it’s a good idea to have conventions for these labels.

It has become apparent that some of Libreoffice‘ toolbar buttons provide confusing and sometimes misleading tooltips. Better labels would not only support learnability but also help to solve some of the mix-ups we found, e.g. in the case of the Navigator. It is common practice to name English functions starting with a verb followed by a noun or adverb. But take care with localization: different languages might have a different grammar! For instance, in German a verb-noun sequence has a strong imperative connotation and it’s better to have noun-verb labels. Anyway, the functions in each languages should be labeled consistently with the specific grammar in mind.

Recommendation for Libreoffice functions in the standard toolbar

We recommend to label all functions starting with a verb followed by noun or adverb (in case of English). Text should be concise, helpful, and easy to read. If the function can be started by shortcut it is added to the text in parentheses. Normal shortcuts combine the control-key (Ctrl) with a letter; the use of simple function keys should be avoided.

Old function labelSuggested new label
NewCreate new document (Ctrl+N)
OpenOpen document (Ctrl+O)
SaveSave document (Ctrl+S)
Send as emailEmail document¹
Edit FileToggle edit mode¹
Export as PDFExport as PDF
Print File DirectlyPrint document directly¹
Page PreviewPreview print output (Ctrl+P)
Spelling & GrammarCheck spelling & grammar (F7)
AutoSpellcheckToggle auto spellcheck¹
CutCut marked area (Ctrl+X)
CopyCopy marked area (Ctrl+C)
PastePaste from clipboard (Ctrl+V)
Format PaintbrushClone formatting²
UndoUndo last action (Ctrl+Z)
RedoRedo last undo action (Ctrl+Y)
HyperlinkInsert hyperlink
TableInsert table
Show Draw FunctionsShow draw functions¹
NavigatorShow document structure (F5)
GalleryShow gallery functions¹
Data SourcesShow data source functions¹
Non Printing CharactersDisplay non printing characters (Ctrl+F10)
LibreOffice HelpOpen help browser (F1)

¹ It should be considered to remove this function from the standard toolbar

² Some functions need redesign, e.g. toolbar buttons must not get ‚overloaded‘.

Conclusion

Functions should be labeled in a definite and unified way. Well named functions help users to understand the program and to learn how to use it efficiently. Convention for labels should be defined depending on the localization.

What do you think about these suggestions? Do you agree?