Products should not have labels

I stumbled across this post by Peter Hildebrandt, giving a very good overview of why your products should not have labels. Of course, the product should not simply lack any operation instructions, but it should be designed to that labels are unnecessary. The examples are real-world examples of affordances, as explained by Don Norman. I mentioned the concept earlier in this blog.

So how can you drop labels? Peter gives the following answers:

  • Make the shape of the control have an obvious ‘affordance’ as to how to use it
  • Make the shape of the controls the same as the thing you are controlling
  • Make controls uniquely shaped so that once a control is learned it’s remembered by feel
  • Make controls you want people to use larger and proud
  • Focus on the most-used controls first

Please read yourself.

Labels vs. Icons

There is an interesting opinion over at Joshua Porter writes that labels are better than icons. This is interesting because for icons are usually a neater way to convey what a button does or where a link leads. Now there is an example which shows that this is not always true: The icons are not providing any help, so Joshua Porter claims that labels are better.

My conclusion is: If you use icons, make sure that there are really easy to understand. Otherwise, use labels. Or even better, use both. If a user got accustomed to a functionality, the label can later be reduced, as I will show in another blog post.