What Not To Do

The next time I get asked, “What’s your greatest weakness?” I’m going to answer — without hesitation — “Double-negatives.”

Any time I saw this question on a test in high school or college, I started to hyperventilate.

Which of the following statements are not true:
A) You never don’t understand double-negatives.
B) You always don’t not understand double-negatives.
C) None of the above are never true.
D) All of the above are true on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
E) Your brain just exploded.

As a user-interaction designer, this internal weakness of mine is a gift.  Since I’m hypersensitive to double-negatives (one might call them my own personal kryptonite), I can help by making simple changes to the words when I see something in a UI that causes me to have cold sweats.

Here’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about.  When I first saw this screen in an app that will remain anonymous, I threw up in my mouth a little.

what not to do

Let’s count the number of negative statements.

  1. The title: “Hide Updates”
  2. The text: “Updates that aren’t selected will not be installed.”
  3. The checkbox: “Don’t notify me about these updates again.”

That’s 4 negative statements.  In a message box with 17 words.  Nice.

Here’s how to redo this same message box, using all positives.

  1. The title: “Show Updates”
  2. The text: “Updates that are selected will be installed.”
  3. The checkbox: (unchecked) “Yes, Please notify me about these updates again.”


The general rule for questions posed to the user: Write them in the positive.

General rule for checkboxes: The act of checking a box should turn that thing ON, not OFF.

See Don’t Make Me Think, and especially GUI Bloopers, Dont’s and Do’s for more commentary.

23 thoughts on “What Not To Do”

  1. Hmmmm, not a strong first day. I am diubestrd by #1, especially since the gal is going to get her Facebook spammed by people telling her what a dumb bitch she is for drinking while pregnant. Which she certainly is, if true.Oh, and a solid me too on hating the expanding ads.

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