If you want to turn it off, press “start”

Problem

When it comes to interaction design Windows has a bunch of popular examples how not to do it. Many of us are so used to these problems that we no more remember how much problem we went through to find our way. One classic example is that you have to press the start button if you want to shut down the computer.

Shutting down Microsoft Windows 7

It is a subtle problem but breaks the grammar of the visual interaction language. In the grammar of visual interfaces, a button is a verb (an action). A menu item is the same.

When the user presses Start and then “Shut Down”, he is actually saying “start to shut down”. This is Microsoft’s documentation about how to shut down a Windows machine:

Microsoft documentation about shutting down Windows 7

It refers to “The Power button” which doesn’t even exist in that shape with that icon anymore. So the newbie user (who is probably the audience of that documentation) keeps looking for that button and ends up frustrated. Anyway even with the power button it would read as “start power”. Little things like this make the users dislike a product or at least not be emotionally attached to it.

Technically it’s not wrong but wouldn’t it be more beautiful to say “shut down the computer”? Apple for example has a better visual grammar. First click the Apple logo (which is a representation of your computer) then choose shut down from the menu:

Shutting down Apple Mac OS X

It is read as “shut down my apple computer”. Similar, but more meaningful. Read on to know why.

Solution

This problem was more obvious in Windows 95 to XP where the “start” button still had a label in English saying “Start”. Today, that button can also be safely called the “Windows button”. At least I hope it’s like that because it makes many other things under that menu have the right visual grammar. For example “Help and Support of Windows”.

If the “Start button” is called “Windows button”, everything works just fine. The user click sequence for shutting down means “shutdown the Windows” rather than “start shutting down” (the article “the” comes from the fact that it is a logo, not a generic noun or verb).

The documentation needs to be updated accordingly. There is no power button in that shape.

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