Skeuomorphism is a hot topic in design at the moment and most of the words directed at it aren’t kind. Do the pages of eBooks need to mimic the folding pages of paper books? Do your purchased iBooks really need to sit on a shelf when they’re really just files in a folder? Some say it lacks originality, others that it limits creativity. My issue with it is far, far more prosaic. It involves tiny clicking noises.
Commuting. Many of us do it. We sit, stand and contort our bodies on buses, tubes and trains. Some read papers, increasing numbers while away the time texting, tweeting and bidding on eBay. Most of us do so silently, but everyone once in a while it happens. Click, click, clickety, click. It’s low and irregular but constant. Click, click, clickety, click. Someone hasn’t turned of the artificial keystroke noises on their phone. Gah! Now, I know it’s a minor irritant. In fact, to even call it an irritant is probably overstating it.
Why though do these clicks exist? More importantly, why one earth is the default setting for the clicks to be on? There’s no shortage of behavioural economics papers that demonstrate that people are lazy – if you make them opt out of the click, click, clickety, click, they simply will not do it. So if you made them opt in, then the incidence rate would drop dramatically.
It would be petty to start some sort of campaign to switch the default setting, but it seemed reasonable to ask some folk on Twitter why the default is set to Click, click, clickety, click. So that’s what I did.
The first idea pitched focused on accuracy. Perhaps, speculated the tweeter, the clicks make typing more accurate. There is some merit to this argument, you certainly know you’ve clicked on a key. However, keys also change colour – another skeuomorphic touch to give the effect of depression, so you see that you hit a ‘enter’ or ‘post’. Moreover, a click merely confirms that you’ve hit a key, not that you’ve hit the right key. As such it might aid speed but I’m uncertain it helps accuracy per se.
— Peter Bright (@DrPizza) January 10, 2013
The next contribution can be classified as the Audio Slave theory. In the same way that digital cameras make a fake shutter noise, perhaps the click, click, clickety, click is just reassurance for those who need their technology to be mimic times gone by.
— Mark Fernandes (@0xMF) January 10, 2013
Someone else suggested that it was a way of demonstrating features. Perhaps the marketing whizzes at phone manufacturers believe new phone owners power up their device and, on hearing the first click, think, “Ooh, it’s got speakers.” I hope no marketer thinks that.
— Robert Wright (@RKWinvisibleman) January 10, 2013
The final idea was transition. Perhaps phone manufacturers are just providing some familiar noises to ease people into new technology. This argument falls down because back when phones had actual physical keys, they still added artificial noises.
— Aditya B (@adityabhaskar) January 10, 2013
I can only conclude that the click, click, clickety, click is with us today because it was with us yesterday and the day before and the day before that. It’s because keystrokes are such a small detail, no one has ever stopped to say, “Can it be better?”
It can and it should, but it’s not a big deal.