KDE control module usability using the example of KCM for pointing devices

After reorganizing the system setting structure, the KDE control modules (KCM) should be updated as well. The pointing device KCM should be the proof-of-concept for all design ideas. Your feedback is highly appreciated, especially in respect to the duality of simple vs. advanced.

In the last year some progress has been made to improve the usability of KDE system settings. Based on the initial project call by Jens Reuterberg we run a survey and discussed the generic organization in the KDE forums. The outcome is implemented in Plasma 5 and achieved public acclaim (although there is still room for improvements).

Now it’s time for the second part, to update the KCM’s itself.

Previous Work

The discussion about KCM’s look and feel started on the forums and culminated in a voting with two options. A lot of brainstorming discussions and summarizing crunches followed (System Settings Application Design and SySe and KCM layout) and some first mockups on how the KCM could look like have been prepared (Network system settings and Mouse cursor theme kcm). All this effort is condensed in the preliminary Human Interface Guideline (HIG).

The most advanced project is the KCM for pointing devices, which needs your feedback now.

Current Status

For the technical details of this KCM read Alexander’s blog. The design started with the current layout respectively the adoption to the new back-end with libinput. Some iterations later the following user interface evolved that meets most of the guidelines mentioned above:

  • proper alignment and spacing
  • no tabs, just scroll
  • layout in up to three columns
KCM pointing devices

Figure 1: KCM pointing devices (Test button is being modified in favor of a checkbox; separation of simple vs.expert in next screenshot)

KCM pointing devices (collapsed 'expert' settings)

Figure 2: KCM pointing devices (collapsed ‘expert’ settings)

The preview section is ‘abused’ as a further selection but should picture the actual device as best as possible. The advanced options are shown when the user expands via ‘more’ (figure 2 only). Another change to this screenshot is the use of a checkbox instead of the test button.
You may find more screenshots in the forums discussion on KCM for pointing devices.


Some doubts occur from the alignment. Anchoring the content to both left and right is awkward, likewise the centering. Another visual conspicuity is the different size of the icons. So the first question to you is about the visual appearance: Do you like it or how would you improve the design?

More important to both the current development process as well as the UX/HIG effort is the question about the expandable section. The idea comes from the KDE vision of “Simple by default and powerful on demand” that ends in a general section with benefit for every users and an advanced content area below that shows up on click at ‘more’, or the like. However this idea originates from KCM regarding visual aspects that are quite bulky. And to cope with many confusing options we separated the simple stuff from the advanced. In case of pointing devices the options are straightforward and the separation is somewhat artificial. So what do you think how to deal with this in general. The options for the HIG would be:

How to deal with the simple vs. expert duality in KCMs?

View Results

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Of course it’s always possible to violate any HIG. We could keep the guideline as it is (answer #1) and start with an exception.

Please feel free to comment all aspects of this KCM. Since the development is work in progress we have a lot of freedom to make this KCM really awesome.

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