A Modest Usability Proposal: double tap keystrokes

As I painfully deleted the trailing part of a URL for perhaps the ten thousandth time in my life … heck, hundred-thousandth … it occurred to me that there ought to be a simple keystroke for deleting to the previous obvious separator. In text editors there are typically all kinds of shortcuts for doing things like extending a selection to the end of a word, or deleting a line, but these tend to be inconsistent between programs (and thus very hard to commit to muscle memory) and highly domain-specific. What I’d like is to be able to tap delete (on a Mac — i.e. backspace) twice quickly to delete to the next logical separator. In a word-processor this would be a space or punctuation mark, in a url this would be a ? or slash.

While double-clicking is a well-used convention in UIs these days, double-tapping keys is not used at all, despite the fact that holding down a key for repeating keystrokes (which was an electric typewriter convention) is pretty much gone — so it’s “unused real estate” in a sense. There are all kinds of obvious uses for double keystrokes. E.g. differentiating return (I want a new paragraph) with return (I’m done — often enter, but often not. E.g. in several Mac programs it’s command-return).

I’d only suggest double-tap be used carefully. E.g. overloading double-tap “o” would cause a lot of grief, e.g. when touch-typing “too”. Overloading double-tap return is dangerous unless the overload does what you expect it to (e.g. explicitly create a new paragraph in a word-processing context).

Well, it’s an idea. Now why did I log into WordPress?

  • I think that’s a really good idea. It’s more ergonomic than holding shift or control so double home could mean go to top of document etc. I hate the way I can’t type tab in a web form because it jumps to the next control, so that’s another use for it. Double menu for the start menu. Can’t use double arrow keys though because people hit them repeatedly anyway. Things like caps lock and insert that people hit by mistake could be obligatorily double. Ctrl, shift etc could be double to stick for one keystroke in case you’ve only got one hand. Blimey! How did we all miss that one for so long?

  • Sean Case

    The iPhone’s keyboard can turn double-space into fullstop-space, which is very handy (especially since fullstop isn’t on the alpha layout…)

  • I also liked Framemaker’s feature whereby doubled spaces after a period were quietly ignored! But yes, that’s a nice specific example of what could be a general addition to the conceptual real estate available to GUI designers via doubled keystrokes.