Two of the least pleasant-to-use GUI controls are the scrollable list box and its cousin the drop-down list, especially when they have many items listed. Of course, that’s exactly when they are indispensable… you can’t use radio buttons for 50 choices, so if you need to let the user choose a state of the union, a drop down list is inevitable. Likewise for countries of the world, or for their currencies.
But the way these geographic-oriented controls are implemented in software and web sites is really annoying.
Take the image at right, the list you have to go through to select a country for a new contact in Outlook and other applications: it opens on a list of ten countries, of which one – Argentina – may be even remotely likely to be inhabited by business contacts of yours. You can scroll down, of course… and in the next ten you find even greater concentrations of business partners, like the entry for the Ashmore and Cartier Islands, which are a group of small uninhabited tropical islands in the Indian Ocean!
Not that I have anything against the inhabitants of Ocean islands, or of Angola, Antigua, or Anguilla, but given the statistics, why should I have to scroll past them – and past Cook Islands, and Namibia, and Nauru, and Palmyra Atoll, for that matter – on my way to find the US, or the UK, where I really have many more contacts and affairs?
Or look at the next screen grab, from a web site for computing currency exchange rates. Do I really need to have Equatorial Guinea’s CFA Franc, the Eritrean Nakfa, and the Ethiopian Birr pushing down the Euro and the US Dollar farther away from the British Pound, just because of the accident of alphabetic order?
Obviously, the people of Estonia do care about the Kroon (and I care about the Israeli Shekel, also far from the heart of global finances). But what is needed is a list that gives the most common choices – the Dollar, the Pound, the Euro – by default at the top of the list, where 99% of users will benefit. And then we need personalization, so each of us in the rest of the world can put their country, or those they deal with, at the very top.